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Maryland top court: defendants cannot be held before trial if unable to afford bail
Maryland top court: defendants cannot be held before trial if unable to afford bail

The Maryland Court of Appeals [official website] adopted a rule [press release] on Tuesday ending the practice of holding criminal defendants in jail before trial when they cannot afford bail. The rule does not abolish the practice of required money for bail [Baltimore Sun report] but instructs judges to seek other ways of ensuring a defendant appears for trial. The rule keeps the option of money bail but provides judicial discretion to find other options when appropriate. It was argued that keeping defendants in jail solely because they could not afford bail is unconstitutional and that if there is a concern of public safety, then it is better to hold defendants without bond rather than placing a high bail amount in order to keep them behind bars. Some other options besides setting a bail amount are pretrial supervision and electronic monitoring. The new rule will take effect July 1.

The treatment of prisoners and prison reform [JURIST podcast] has been a matter of ongoing concern in the US. In March the Department of Justice urged state court systems to stop jailing defendants for their failure to pay fines [JURIST report]. Last February the Supreme Court of California ruled [JURIST report] that Governor Jerry Brown can put his plan to ease prison overcrowding on the ballot this November. In January of last year the US Supreme Court ruled that a landmark decision banning mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles should apply retroactively [JURIST report]. In February 2015 rights group Equal Justice Under Law filed suit [JURIST report] against the cities of Ferguson and Jennings, Missouri, for their practice of jailing citizens who fail to pay debts owed to the city for minor offenses and traffic tickets.