On the heels of Tuesday’s unanimous decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals to overhaul the state’s money-bail system, Dean Ronald Weich contributed an op-ed to The Baltimore Sun about the evolution of his views on cash bail.
Meanwhile, The Daily Record featured a column about the work of the UB School of Law’s new Pretrial Justice Clinic, which represents indigent defendants who cannot post bond and advocates for bail reform.
Weich, who worked as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan in the 1980s, said that he now realizes the money bail system unfairly penalizes the poor, particularly African Americans, and perpetuates the cycle of intergenerational poverty and mass incarceration.
“The court’s action caused me to recall my first legal job,” Weich wrote. “One of my duties was to represent the government at arraignment hearings for people arrested on charges ranging from murder to shoplifting. This was where a judge typically set bail — the price of pretrial release. The ability of defendants to pay this price determined whether they would return home to prepare for trial or be locked up in the city’s hellish jail on Rikers Island.
“Defendants unable to make bail could spend months, even years, at Rikers awaiting trial or an eventual plea deal that might let them off with time served. They had not yet been found guilty of anything; they were there because they could not afford to pay their way out.”
Wrote Weich: “Looking back, I now see that a system so reliant on money bail was unfair and inefficient.”
Weich urged the General Assembly to strengthen pretrial services throughout the state and noted that the Pretrial Justice Clinic would be part of a coalition of advocates seeking legislative action.
Daily Record columnist Joe Surkiewicz interviewed clinic co-directors Zina Makar and Colin Starger, who discussed student-attorneys’ work challenging unfair and improper bail determinations while also focusing on big-picture advocacy work.
The clinic, funded by the Abell Foundation, has no shortage of potential clients, Surkiewicz pointed out: Nationwide, people held in pretrial detention are second in number only to convicted violent criminals – a situation that is one of the prime drivers of mass incarceration.
Said Starger: “We have to confront violence, but we can’t throw away liberty at the same time.”