Bail Review and Reduction
The process of setting and making bail in Maryland is a critical stage of any criminal prosecution. It is also unfortunately a part of the process that people far too often try to handle themselves instead of hiring an attorney who is experienced in these matters. This mistake often costs people who are charged with crimes to remain in jail when it is not necessary for them to do so or costs them much more than it should have or could have to secure pre-trial release. Here are the basics of how the process works:
When a person is arrested and charged with a crime in Maryland, the police are required to take that person before a judicial officer, known as a court commissioner in Maryland, within 24 hours of arrest for an initial appearance. At this initial appearance the court commissioner will conduct a hearing in which he or she will explain to the person what specific charges have been filed against them and what the maximum penalty is for each offense. The commissioner will explain the person’s right to an attorney and advise them of the importance of retaining an attorney to represent them in a criminal case. The commissioner will advise the person that if they cannot afford an attorney that they may qualify for representation by the Office of the Public Defender. Finally he will admonish them that if they appear in court without an attorney, that the judge may determine that they have waived their right to an attorney through inaction and require them to represent themselves. The commissioner will then determine whether the person can be released prior to trial or whether the person should be remanded pending trial.
In most cases the commissioner may either release the person on his or her personal recognizance, which basically just means on his pledge to come to court, set a monetary bail or order that the person be held without bail. If a bail is set, the statute allows for defendant’s to post the bail in one of three ways. The defendant may post the bail utilizing cash, real property or a corporate surety, also known as a bail bondsman.
Under certain circumstances, the commissioner is prohibited from setting bail and must order the person to be held without bail. These include situations in which a person is already out on bail pending trial for one or more of an enumerated list of felonies and is subsequently charged with another felony on this list. It also includes situations in which a person is charged with a domestic violence related assault or a violation of a protective order when he has previously been released on bail on charges related to the same alleged victim.
If the commissioner does set bail, but the person charged cannot post it because it is too high of an amount, the person may choose to appear the following court day in front of a judge in the District Court of Maryland for a bail review. It is absolutely essential to have an experienced criminal defense attorney for this stage of the criminal prosecution. At this hearing the judge will base his or her decision on what bail or other conditions of release to set, based on the court’s evaluation of two factors: whether the defendant presents a flight risk and whether releasing the defendant would present a danger to a particular individual or the community at large. Experienced attorneys know what information to present as well as how to present it in such a way as to persuade the court to grant the most favorable bail or other conditions of pre-trial release. The mere presence of a private attorney at a bail review is assurance enough to most judges that the person will in fact appear in court leaving only the dangerousness factor for the court to consider.
Far too often people only first start looking into hiring a criminal attorney for their incarcerated family member or friend after an adverse bail ruling has been handed down in the District Court. At this point the defense attorney can still be very helpful but the options are limited. The attorney may file a motion to reconsider the bail in the district court or file a Petition for Habeus Corpus in the Circuit Court. It is more challenging to secure a favorable bail decision with this process as courts very often require a defendant to demonstrate either an abuse of discretion by the District Court Judge or a change in circumstances in the case to even consider changing the bail.
The criminal trial team at Silverman Thompson handles hundreds of criminal cases each year. In many of these cases our representation begins when we are retained to help secure a reasonable bail. This is always easiest to do the earlier we are involved in the process. Please call our office for a free consultation.