Privacy restrictions bar ICE from giving out an individual's immigration details, said spokeswoman Nicole Navas. Some basic information, which may include immigration issues or failures to appear for other court proceedings, can often be found in court files or through other means.

Scott D. Shellenberger, the state's attorney in Baltimore County, said the issue is part of the bondsmen's gamble.

"Why should you make money when the person comes to court and not lose money when he doesn't?" he said. Bondsmen "shouldn't be able to win no matter what."

The handling of this issue has varied among states.

In Colorado, bondsmen forfeit only the bond — not the full bail — if a defendant doesn't challenge deportation and is removed from the country before trial, said Jefferson County District Attorney Scott Storey. Bondsmen don't make money on those bonds.

In Tennessee, deportation has not been a reason to excuse companies from paying the full bail amount to the court, said Don White, vice president of ABC Bonding in Chattanooga. That's why he, and many other bondsmen, require the full bail amount up front if they can't verify a Social Security number for the defendant. And if the accused does come to court, they refund the client everything but the 10 percent bond and their fees.

Some Maryland Court of Appeals judges suggested ways of dealing with the issues, such as not writing bonds unless defendants ask immigration courts to delay deportation proceedings until after trial, and allowing bondsmen to ask courts to return forfeited bail if they prove they tried to return the deported defendant to the United States.

Lawyers for Big Louie said bondsmen want a "bright line" decision that clearly sets the rules. And they said enmeshing bondsmen in a client's immigration case is costly and time-consuming.

During arguments at the Court of Appeals, judges acknowledged it's a sticky problem.

"This is nuanced beyond that which we've ever seen before because we have the federal government coming in," said Judge Lynne A. Battaglia.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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