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Judiciary looks to develop electronic tracking of bail review outcomes

bail-review-graphicThe Maryland Judiciary is unable to electronically track the results of bail review hearings, but a workgroup established in conjunction with the new bail rule that went into effect July 1 hopes to remedy that.

Outcomes of initial appearances before a court commissioner are kept electronically and available for the entire state, but individuals who are not released have the option of having the commissioner’s bail determination reviewed by a judge. That information, however, is not documented digitally, District Court Chief Judge John P. Morrissey said last month.

“Presently, the results of a judge’s review of the commissioner’s initial appearance decision can only be tracked manually,” he said in a prepared statement. “A computerized system to track this data is being developed.”

In the meantime, the Judiciary has done some of that manual tracking, looking at initial appearance and bail review outcomes in three counties between January and May, according to data that took Judiciary staffers 100 hours to compile and was provided to The Daily Record. On average, half of the individuals held without bond at an initial appearance are continued at no bond after a bail review, according to the data from Anne Arundel, Cecil and Wicomico counties.

Maryland’s new bail rule went into effect July 1, but criminal defense attorneys have said the behavior of judicial officers has changed since the fall, when Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh issued an opinion questioning the constitutionality of Maryland’s bail system and Morrissey sent a letter to judges and commissioners reminding them of the purpose of financial conditions. Previously provided initial appearance data from the Judiciary showed an overall increase in the percentage of people being released on their own recognizance or unsecured bond as well as those held without bond since October.

MDEC connection

Anne Arundel County had an increase in the percentage of individuals held without bond from between 4 and 9 percent from last July through October to an average of 13.2 percent between January and May. Of that group, 6.6 percent were continued at no bond after a bail review. In more than one third of those cases, the commissioner did not have discretion to release the defendants because they are prohibited from releasing someone accused of a crime punishable by life in prison and certain other offenses. A judge is permitted to set release conditions at the bail review.

Cecil County saw a similar increase in the portion of individuals held without bond after initial appearances from 8.7 percent last July to 18 percent in May. Between January and May, an average of 16.1 percent of people did not get bond initially but only 5.7 percent of them continued to be held without bond after a bail review. In approximately 60 percent of the initial, no-bond cases, the commissioner had no discretion.

The overall percentage of people held without bond after an initial appearance in Wicomico County has also increased but fluctuated more than in the other two jurisdictions. Between 3.6 percent and 10.8 percent of arrestees were held between last July and October, but that increased to as high as 19 percent in the months following. The average held without bond between January and May was 14.7, percent with 9.6 percent continued at no bond after a bail review. Of those initially held, more than half of the cases did not give the commissioner discretion.

Anne Arundel, Cecil and Wicomico counties are the largest jurisdictions using the Maryland Electronic Courts system during the January-to-May time period, according to the Judiciary, but the data still had to be manually compiled case by case.

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