One 24-year-old man from Northwest D.C. had been charged with possession of a vial of PCP and a bag containing six grams of cocaine, which police alleged could be sold for $600.

Howze reviewed the case, then ordered the man released pending trial — with a requirement that he undergo drug testing. He was unshackled as he signed paperwork, and walked straight out of the courthouse after providing information to pretrial services officials.

A man accused of stealing from a grocery store was released, as were a man charged with destruction of property and two women accused of assaulting a business owner. Some were ordered to report for supervision once a week.

Those who had committed an offense involving a handgun or whom Howze otherwise deemed dangerous were ordered detained; most would get another hearing in two days.

Supporters of the Maryland system cite the speed at which commissioners can make bail decisions, which gives most low-risk suspects a quick opportunity to get out of jail.

"Commissioners are making good decisions right now," said Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger, a money bail proponent.

The judicial panel recommended keeping bail but scaling back the use of commissioners. Most proceedings would take place before judges, merging the two-step process into a single hearing. Commissioners would only conduct hearings on weekends.

Court officials say those changes would improve the efficiency of the bail system and honor defendants' right to counsel.

Half of all Maryland criminal suspects charged in 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, were quickly released without any conditions, and many more post bail soon after seeing a commissioner.

At a recent bail review hearing in Baltimore, for example, a man arrested that day for theft under $1,000 didn't appear because he had scraped together enough cash to post his $20,000 bond and was released.

Sixty percent of the defendants waiting in the Baltimore jail are held without bail — a common condition for the most violent offenders — but the remaining 40 percent are only there because they can't pay.

On average, 199 people languished in the Baltimore City Detention Center each day of fiscal 2012 on bails of $5,000 or less, according to data from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

That might be because they cannot come up with the few hundred dollars to buy their freedom, even through financing options are offered by bond companies. Another explanation could be that no company will take their money because they have a history of missing court dates.

In Washington, by contrast, some suspects wait until the next day before they have a chance at release — or longer if they are arrested on the weekend. At any time an estimated 350 people are held on a single charge in jail in Washington, according to Cliff Keenan, the director of the district's pretrial services agency.

Udoff said bondsmen carefully size up potential customers, a sort of free-market evaluation for flight risk.

A 2007 study of felony defendants by the Department of Justice found that those with a bail amount were more likely to show up for court dates than those released without financial conditions. The rates of being arrested while out on release were about the same for both groups, though.

Critics of Maryland's system, though, say it would be better to make decisions using an objective tool rather than relying on the gut feelings of commissioners, judges and bondsmen.

"Money bail is not a rational system," said Douglas Colbert, a law professor at the University of Maryland who has been laboring for over a decade to change the way defendants are treated before trial.

Last summer, for example, a Southeast Baltimore organic honey business owner was charged with 20 counts of drug and firearms charges after police said they found 10 handguns and rifles along with 3 ounces of cocaine, a small amount of marijuana and psychedelic drugs.

Bail for Frantz Walker was set at $1 million — which he was able to post and walk out of Central Booking. He's been able to remain at home and continue running his business while awaiting trial.