Every Citizen Is Entitled to Equal Justice Under the Law—But Maryland’s Pretrial Release and Bail Practices Fail to Provide It

September 2001 / Abell Reports / Criminal Justice and Addiction

In order to make bail, low-income defendants spend money that is needed for rent, food, and utilities.

In 1999, at least 36,000 defendants suffered undue financial and personal hardship because of Maryland’s pretrial release practices. Defendants have a right, under Maryland Rules of Criminal Procedure, to pretrial
release on the least onerous conditions that will ensure public safety and assure the defendant’s reappearance for trial. However, in practice, non-violent defendants often receive bail conditions that far exceed the “least onerous” standard.

These conditions compel low-income defendants and their families to make choices that inflict hardship and have the potential to destabilize their fragile financial stability. Too often, defendants and their families are forced to secure the pretrial release of the accused by spending money that was needed for rent, food, and utilities. This occurs even though most non-violent offenders pose none of the risks for which onerous pretrial release conditions might appropriately be imposed – they present no threat to public safety and have community ties that militate against pretrial flight. The case of Tony L. (and many other defendants like him) points to the need for reform, as called for by the Pretrial Release Project in its recent study, “The Pretrial Release Project: A Study of Maryland’s Pretrial Release and Bail System,” published by The Abell Foundation, June, 2001. This study:

  • focuses attention on the inequity of a pretrial release system that, in effect, transfers between $42 million and $170 million a year from low-income Maryland defendants to bail bondsmen; and
  • prompts The Abell Foundation to suggest that Maryland consider the model set by other states which have either eliminated or substantially reduced the role of financial bail in their pretrial release practices.