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Carroll County News

Most Carroll arrestees passing on state-funded attorney when bail set

After more than a decade of lawsuits and appeals, the highest court in Maryland granted defendants who cannot afford attorneys the right to have one beside them when their bail is set.

In Carroll County, however, the vast majority of those recently-arrested defendants have said no thanks to a state-funded attorney, and proceeded to appear alone in front of a district court commissioner.

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According to Warden George Hardinger, most people processed through central booking at the Carroll County Detention Center whose income qualifies them have waived their right after it is explained to them.

"It's even higher than I anticipated," he said. The appointed attorneys are available in Carroll County from 8 a.m. to noon seven days a week.

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Even defendants charged with serious crimes and without a great deal of experience with the criminal justice system have chosen to proceed unrepresented, which Hardinger said surprised him.

The appointed attorneys program was established to comply with a Maryland Court of Appeals decision which held that defendants deserve to be represented if they wish it when their bail is established because their liberty is at stake.

From a logistics standpoint for the detention center, Hardinger said that things are running smoothly because so many people are waiving.

"There have been no real problems," he said. "This thing has gone better than expected."

No statistics are available about the number of attorneys provided so far or the number of defendants who have waived, according to Terri Bolling, of the Maryland Judiciary Office of Communications and Public Affairs.

Chief Deputy State's Attorney Allan Culver said his office, which has a designated attorney prepared to attend any initial appearance where the defendant has counsel present, had not attended as many hearings as they expected to either.

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The state's attorney in charge of covering initial appearances for the day calls the District Court commissioner in the morning and asks if any defendants are waiting for attorneys and expect to be represented, Culver said.

"We've all kind of worked together to make sure everyone understands what the other agencies are doing," Culver said.

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Culver attributed the high number of waivers in part to the efficiency of the initial appearance system in Carroll County overall.

According to Hardinger, he has talked to his colleagues in jurisdictions similar to Carroll County and they are having a similar experience: Defendants are turning down state-funded attorneys.

Culver said that the problems addressed by the Court of Appeals case originated in the larger jurisdictions, including Baltimore, where there were issues with post-arrest procedure.

"In Carroll County, things were running smoothly before," he said.

Reach staff writer Heather Cobun at 410-857-7898 or email heather.cobun@carrollcountytimes.com.


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