November 01, 2016

Excessive Bail

ABA President Linda A. Klein urged the Maryland Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure to amend state court rules to reduce the use of excessive bail in pretrial detention, which often leads to continued detention of defendants before trial due to their inability to pay.  In a Nov. 15 letter to the standing committee, Klein recommended amending Rule 4-216 so that Maryland pretrial procedures would comply with the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution stating that “excessive bail shall not be required,” and Article 25 of the Maryland’s Declaration of Rights, which states that “excessive bail ought not to be required.” In her letter, Klein pointed out that for decades the ABA has worked to improve pretrial release in America. The ABA standards – which have been approved by judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, and cited by courts nationwide – require that courts (1) give individualized consideration to each defendant; (2) use financial conditions only when no other conditions will ensure appearance in court for trial; and (3) never detain defendants solely due to their inability to pay. Klein said that reports and white papers from numerous groups, including the Abell foundation, the Commission to Reform Maryland’s Pretrial System, and the law firm of Covington & Burling, contain ample evidence that Maryland’s wealth-based detention scheme fails to meet the ABA standards. “The ABA applauds Maryland’s attorney general, public defender, and others for recommending changes to Maryland’s Rule 4-216 that would help bring the state into compliance with these standards and with the United States and Maryland Constitutions,” Klein wrote. The standing committee approved the proposed amendments on Nov. 18 and submitted its report to the Maryland Court of Appeals. The comment period ends Dec. 22, after which the court is like to consider the change at its next open meeting.

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