Bail Bond Industry Tries to Head Off Court Ruling

Maryland's highest court has ruled that cash bail as applied in the state is unconstitutionally discriminatory -- on racial and economic grounds. The bail bond industry, built on the lucrative supplying of emergency funds to the desperate, sees economic ruin in the ruling and is trying to head it off in the General Assembly with a last-minute bill. Progressive Maryland argues before the House Judiciary Committee that undermining the court's ruling is against the public interest.

/PM BlogSpace Report/ Progressive Maryland’s Jennifer Dwyer joined other social-justice advocates April 5 in testifying against a last-minute ambush bill that sought to reverse the effects of a decision from the state’s highest court that cash bail was inherently unconstitutional.

Some sponsors and backers of the bill have received significant campaign contributions from the bail bond industry, as is pointed out by former Maryland Attorney General Steve Sachs in a Baltimore Sun op-ed. “It remains to be seen whether the industry can continue to work its will,” Sachs said.

“What is crystal clear, however, is that the industry has bet heavily on its two advocates [Sen. Bobby Zirkin and Del. Joe Vallario]. Consider the recent Common Cause report, "Pay to Play? How Special Interests Seek Influence in Annapolis."

Below Dwyer explains why the bill should be rejected to members of the House Judiciary Committee, who are considering reporting it to the House floor: Progressive Maryland’s testimony Wednesday, April 5 before the House Judiciary Committee (chaired by Del. Vallario).

 Testimony in Opposition to Maryland Senate Bill 983
Criminal Procedure – Pretrial Release

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on SB 983. Progressive Maryland is a grassroots, nonprofit organization of more than 100,000 members and supporters who live in nearly every legislative district in the state. In addition, there are 18 affiliated religious, community and labor organizations that stand behind our work. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families in Maryland. Please note our strong opposition to this bill.

Under our current cash bail system, individuals who have not yet been tried are incarcerated simply because they cannot afford the cash bail required to be free until the date of their hearing-- individuals who would ultimately be found “not guilty” by a court could be held in jail for days, weeks, or months awaiting trial simply because they’re too poor to afford cash bail— and in the meantime lose their jobs and homes and be unable to care for their families. This is clearly not how our justice system is intended to work, and we absolutely must not have different levels of justice for the poor and the rich.

  The dialogue around SB 983 has falsely led some to believe that our only options to ensure that those who have been arrested show up for their day in court are cash bail or ankle monitoring at the defendant’s expense. What proponents of SB 983 fail to consider is that there are serious penalties for failure to appear in court, including jail time and significant fines, which serve to deter most defendants from “skipping bail.” We believe that for low-risk defendants, including first-time offenders and those charged with non-violent crimes, a release on their own recognizance is more appropriate, as well as more cost-effective for Maryland taxpayers. The conditions under which other bail requirements could be imposed should be limited to higher-risk defendants, as defined by specific criteria, not left up to the “individualized determination” of a judicial officer, as SB 983 calls for.

  Maryland residents deserve better than to be incarcerated without having been convicted of a crime for no other reason than their inability to pay cash bail.