Has Maryland bail reform backfired? In article, Starger says no.

Colin Starger w lights

Professor Colin Starger

Daily Record reporter Heather Cobun, J.D. ’13, writes that criminal justice reforms designed to allow more Maryland defendants to be released without posting exorbitant bail have backfired in one important respect: The percentage of defendants denied bail has risen dramatically.

Read “Is This Bail Reform? A push by top officials in Md. against burdensome bail is backfiring, some defense attorneys say. More are being denied bail.” (The Daily Record, June 11, 2017)

In some parts of the state, the proportion of people denied bail has more than doubled since October 2016, according to the newspaper’s review of data from Maryland’s 12 district courts.

In October, District Court Chief Judge John P. Morrissey wrote a letter to judges and court commissioners reminding them of the purpose of bail and noting that bail should not be imposed simply to keep a defendant in custody, to satisfy public opinion or to punish the defendant. (See Baltimore Sun story here.) Morrissey’s letter followed an opinion from Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh that questioned the constitutionality of the state’s bail system.

Professor Colin Starger, co-director of UB’s Pretrial Justice Clinic, emphasized that state law prohibits the jailing of defendants just because they can’t afford to post bond.

“It’s always been the law that somebody shouldn’t be locked up because they’re unable to pay bond,” Starger said. “However in practice, that happened a lot, so the rule change was kind of necessary to remind people that that’s always been the law.”

Despite the increase in people being held without bail, Starger said the overall trend of more personal recognizance and unsecured bond for defendants is positive.

“The new rule dealt with a very serious problem … that has to do with poor people accused of low-level crimes spending time in jail” because they can’t afford bail, he said.

Starger said judicial officers must not use the accusation of a serious crime as evidence that a defendant is dangerous and should be held without bond: “We’re trying to make the arguments and get them heard and accepted on a broader level that you cannot conflate an accusation of dangerousness with clear and convincing proof of dangerousness and that it’s unrealistic to think that all allegations of dangerousness end up with that kind of proof,” Starger said.

Learn more about Professor Starger and the Pretrial Justice Clinic.

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