Pretrial Justice Clinic op-ed: Judges misinterpret new bail law

Students from the Pretrial Justice Clinic (PTJC) contributed an op-ed to The Baltimore Sun saying judges have been misinterpreting a recent Maryland judicial rule enacted to combat the overuse, or reflexive use, of money bail.

Read “Baltimore judges misinterpret new rule to mean no bail – ever” (Dec. 5, 2017).

Authors Meghan Ellis and John Sebastian write that, in practice, “many judges have interpreted the rule as requiring them to deny everyone bail in lieu of setting a monetary bond. But this is a false interpretation. The new rule provides alternatives to money bail to prevent poor people from being incarcerated on high bail amounts.”

PTJC students observed several bail review dockets this semester to gauge the impact of the new rule.

“In docket after docket, we witnessed the same phenomenon: District Court judges holding the vast majority of individuals without bail,” Ellis and Sebastian wrote.

An example from the op-ed: On Oct. 23, 2017, 24 people – all of them charged with misdemeanor offenses – appeared before District Court Judge Jack Lesser. Only two were released on their own recognizance. Three were held on monetary bonds ranging from $1,500 to $7,500, while everyone else was denied bail. Some of these people had no prior criminal convictions and no history of violence.

Even a few days in jail can do a lot to destroy a person’s life, the authors note: Some of our clients have lost their jobs, homes and even custody of their children. Several have lost government-issued benefits due to their incarceration.”

PTJC student-attorneys J. Ethan Clasing, Andrew Cryan, Theresa Grisez, Charlie Kerr, Arien Parham and Christy Watts contributed to the op-ed, which appeared on The Sun‘s op-ed page along with an opinion piece written by students in the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law’s Access to Justice Clinic. (Read “Baltimore continues to improperly incarcerate poor people pre-trial.”)

Learn more about UB’s Pretrial Justice Clinic.

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