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Maryland Politics blog

Sweeping overhaul for bail review

The Senate voted 37-9 Monday night for a sweeping overhaul of Maryland's system for deciding who is held and who is released after an arrest.

The legislation now goes to the House, where lawmakers have been struggling to reach consensus on their own version of a plan to respond to a Court of Appeals decision requiring that people who are arrested be represented by a lawyer at all steps of the bail review process. Previously, representation was not required for initial hearings before a bail commissioner.

Complying with the ruling by providing public defenders to each indigent defendant would cost an estimated $55 million or more annually, prompting lawmakers to seek a less costly solution. The Senate plan would employ a computerized assessment under which defendants found to be a low risk for failing to appear at trial or for committing new crimes would be released automatically. Those found to be a higher risk would have their initial hearing before a judge.

The House Judiciary Committee has discussed but not voted on a version of its own but is expected to take a different approach from the Senate. The two chambers would then have to agree on a plan before the session ends next Monday night. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has described the legislation as one of the "must pass" bills of the session.

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