In a New York Times op-ed published today, Professor Zina Makar, clinical teaching fellow in UB’s new Pretrial Justice Clinic, said that increased scrutiny of Baltimore’s justice system has shone a light on the city’s “sky-high” bail amounts.
In Baltimore, people accused of a crime may spend months in jail because they can’t make bail – even though almost 45 percent of all misdemeanor and 30 percent of all felony cases in the city wind up being dismissed, Makar wrote in “Bail Reform Begins with the Bench” (Nov. 17, 2016).
Makar’s op-ed comes a month after Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh wrote an opinion saying the practice of holding defendants in jail because they were unable to meet bail would likely be found unconstitutional. Makar’s op-ed also follows a Baltimore Sun report about a city Circuit Court judge who was recorded saying she set high bail even though she knew it meant that more “poor people wind up in jail.” (See earlier blog post here.)
Under Maryland law, bail is to be used only to ensure a defendant’s appearance at trial.
The U.S. Department of Justice this year concluded an investigation into the city police department that found officers disproportionately stop, search and arrest African Americans in violation of federal law and the U.S. Constitution. The DOJ and the city have agreed to work together on a federal court-enforceable consent decree that addresses the problems found during the more than yearlong investigation.
Makar also addressed Baltimore defense attorneys’ longstanding complaints about vague, “legally deficient” police reports, which judges use when setting bail. The Justice Department found that Baltimore police officers regularly violate constitutional standards when they stop and detain people and have used boilerplate arrest reports that already identify the accused as a “black male.”
“Especially now that the Justice Department has confirmed what many already knew — that the Baltimore police have deeply rooted, systemic racial bias that disproportionately harms black men — judges must stop relying solely on police arrest reports in making bail determinations,” Makar wrote.