31 March 2017

For Once, Maryland Politics Works

About a month ago the Maryland state Supreme Court ordered an overhaul of the bail system so that people do not spend weeks or months in pre-trial detention simply because they are poor:
Maryland’s highest court voted unanimously Tuesday to overhaul the state’s bail policies, essentially abolishing a system in which poor people could languish behind bars for weeks or months before trial because they could not post bond.

The rule change, which takes effect July 1, requires judges to impose the “least onerous” conditions when setting bail for a defendant who is not considered a danger or a flight risk.

That means Maryland will join a handful of states, including New Mexico, Kentucky and New Jersey, that have moved away from bail as part of a larger criminal-justice overhaul movement.

Judges will be required for the first time to consider whether a defendant can afford to make bail before setting their pretrial release conditions. They must also weigh whether defendants pose a risk of committing another crime or of not appearing for their next court date.

The directive approved by the rules committee of the Maryland Court of Appeals says that “preference should be given to additional conditions without financial terms,” court spokesman Kevin Kane said.

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), who has been pushing for an overhaul of the system, called the rules change a “huge step forward” that will lead to “more justice in Maryland.”
Of course, there is a politically connected group who promptly got the state Senate to pass a bill eviscerating this ruling, but following an overwhelming vote against this bill by Maryland black caucus in the House of delegates, it appears it won't even make it to the floor there:
In what could be a devastating blow to bail bondsmen, Maryland's Legislative Black Caucus voted overwhelmingly Thursday to oppose legislation that would partially restore the role of cash bail in pretrial release.

The caucus voted, 31-5, to oppose a bill favored by the bail bond industry — and approved by the state Senate — that would overrule the Court of Appeals' instruction in February that court commissioners and judges consider other forms of pretrial release before resorting to cash bail.

Opponents of the bill said the vote gives House Speaker Michael E. Busch the political cover he needs to keep the legislation off the House floor. Busch later acknowledged that the vote affects the bill's future.

"This sends a clear message to House leadership that the issue is dead for this year," Del. Curt Anderson said.

The question of how the General Assembly should respond — if at all — to the Court of Appeals rule has been one of the hardest-fought battles of this legislative session. The caucus came down firmly on the side of letting the rule stand.


The industry objected to a provision of the Court of Appeals rule that diminished the role of cash bail in pretrial release. "Preference should be given to additional conditions without financial terms," the rule reads.

The Senate bill would supersede that provision and put cash bail on a par with other conditions, which include steps such as drug treatment, monitoring and home detention.

The bill is now bottled up in the House Rules & Executive Nominations Committee because the Senate passed it after a legislative deadline. Opponents want the speaker to keep it there, and the caucus action bolsters their case. Members of black caucus make up about 40 percent of Democrats in the House.
I've gotta contact Busch's office and ask him to keep the bill off the floor.

BTW, like all recipients of corporate welfare, the bail bondsmen have set up a sophisticated and expensive lobbying and PR campaign.

All this to fight a rule that basically says, "If the defendant is not a risk, don't throw him in jail for being poor."

These ratf%$#s make Comcast look like Albert Schweitzer.


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