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Md. appeals court orders review of excessive bail under new rules

Two accused burglars with a record of fleeing before trial were wrongfully assessed bail in amounts exceeding their ability to pay, Maryland’s second-highest court ruled Friday in explaining its June order that the terms of their pretrial detention be reviewed.

The bail assessment beyond their means violated the Maryland Judiciary’s rule that financial conditions on pretrial detention be set only as a last resort and never in an amount beyond the defendants capacity to pay, the Court of Special Appeals stated in its reported 3-0 decision.

The court said Aaron Bradds and Samuel Hill could potentially be ordered held without bail before trial due to their risk of flight or possible threat to public safety, but such a ruling would have to be made following the ordered bail review proceeding, as provided in the rules Maryland’s top court adopted in February 2017.

The Court of Appeals adoption of the bail rule was spurred by Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s letter to legislators in 2016 expressing concern that a judicial officers’ imposition of bail beyond low-income defendants’ financial means essentially consigns them to jail before trial in violation of constitutional guarantees of due process and prohibitions on excessive punishment.

The intermediate Court of Special Appeals decision in Bradds’ and Hill’s consolidated case marks the first reported opinion applying the new bail rules.

“In both of these cases, intentionally or not, the records suggest that the court fell back on the approach common under the old rules, not the rules as revised,” Judge Douglas R. M. Nazarian wrote for the Court of Special Appeals.

“Once the courts decided not to hold these defendants, they should have considered non-financial conditions before considering financial conditions,” Nazarian added. “And once the courts considered and rejected non-financial conditions, the courts should have assessed the defendants’ financial status and set financial conditions that they had an opportunity to meet.”

Frosh’s office, which supported Bradds’ and Hill’s request for a new hearing, declined to comment on the Court of Special Appeals’ decision.

Brian Saccenti, who heads the Maryland public defender’s appellate division, did not return a telephone message Friday seeking comment on the decision. Saccenti’s office represented Bradds and Hill.

In Bradds’ case, a Baltimore judge ordered him held in pretrial detention on $50,000 bail, though he had no assets, no job, no public benefits and two children, according to the opinion. Hill was also held on a $50,000 bond, though he had no job, no savings, debt of $10,000, a toddler and was the sole caretaker for his ailing mother, the opinion stated.

“If, as it appears, the courts did not intend for these defendants to be released pending trial, the courts should not have accomplished that goal by setting bond at a level these indigent defendants could not meet,” Nazarian wrote. “Financial conditions should be imposed only as a last resort, and only as conditions of release, i.e., at a level that the individual defendant has a reasonable prospect of satisfying.”

The Court of Special Appeals, in ordering new bail hearings, noted that burglary charges could lead a judge to find these the men could pose a danger to the public if released before trial. A judge also could potentially hold the men in jail as flight risks based on Bradds’ 11 prior failures to appear for trial and Hill’s five failures, the court added.

“We do not mean remotely to suggest that the rules entitled these defendants to be released,” Nazarian wrote. “Again, the record before the bail review courts contains undisputed information that could have supported finding to hold both of them had the court undertaken the correct analysis. But because the courts decided not to do so, then skipped over any consideration of non-financial conditions, its decisions to impose these financial conditions on these indigent defendants were inconsistent with the revised rules.”

Nazarian was joined in the opinion by Judges Andrea M. Leahy and Peter B. Krauser, a retired jurist sitting by special assignment.

The Court of Special Appeals rendered its decision in the consolidated cases, Aaron Bradds and Samuel Hill v. Dionne Randolph, Warden, Nos. 77 and 78, September Term 2018.


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