Public Safety & Justice

Maryland Court Restores Right to Public Defenders at Bail Hearings

Maryland's highest court ruled Wednesday that poor suspects should have access to counsel at all bail hearings, overturning the General Assembly's attempt to spare already-stretched public defenders from attending hundreds of thousands of proceedings each year.
September 26, 2013

Maryland's highest court ruled Wednesday that poor suspects should have access to counsel at all bail hearings, overturning the General Assembly's attempt to spare already-stretched public defenders from attending hundreds of thousands of proceedings each year.

 
In a 4-3 decision issued Wednesday, the Court of Appeals found that indigent defendants should have access to public defenders when court commissioners set their bail. The ruling said suspects have that right "in any proceeding that may result in the defendant's incarceration."
 
State officials argued that indigent clients get adequate representation over the course of the judicial process and that it would be too costly for the Maryland public defender's office to staff so many hearings.
 
After a similar court ruling in 2012, lawmakers passed a law making clear that free representation would be available starting with bail review hearings, at which judges review commissioners' decisions.

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