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: