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Maryland's bail system should be protected, not 'reformed' [Letter]

Editor:

I write to commend The Aegis for its very well-reasoned editorial [Friday, Dec. 9] about the Maryland bail system. Maryland's proven and time-tested bail system is currently under assault by liberal leaders in Annapolis.

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As both the senior Republican on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and as a member of the Maryland Court of Appeals' Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, I have been waging a battle to protect the rights of victims by upholding Maryland's existing bail system and the ability of judges to set conditions for bail.

Since Day 1 of our 227-year-old republic, the United States and the State of Maryland have had procedures for allowing people accused of committing certain types of crimes to post bail – typically cash or a surety bond – instead of confinement or unconditional release prior to trial.

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The purpose of bail is to provide a strong incentive for the accused to appear in court, while at the same time obviating the need for jail for many types of criminal defendants. The terms and conditions associated with bail are set by judges, who must balance the rights of accused versus the rights of victims and the overall interest of protecting public safety.

There's a prevailing notion among some people, including us, that criminals are criminals and should be treated as criminals. We have often taken judges to task for what we have perceived as them being too easy on criminals.

As The Aegis correctly noted, excessive bails are prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and by the Maryland State Constitution. And, for over 200 years, routine judicial matters such as whether a criminal defendant should be able to make bail and, if so, at what level, have been left to judges.

At no other time in our history has Maryland's bail system been viewed as "unconstitutional." Well, at no other time until Brian Frosh became Maryland's Attorney General. Mr. Frosh's legal opinion that Maryland's cash bail system may be unconstitutional because some poor defendants may not able afford to post bail is a classic case of liberal judicial activism. And, of course, the ACLU and the trial bar lobby have supported this creative and activist interpretation of the Constitution.

Personally speaking, during my 30-plus years as a trial attorney in Maryland, I do not recall a single instance in which a Circuit Court or District Court Judge has abused his or her discretion in setting reasonable amount of bail. And, as a State Senator, I do not recall one instance in which a constituent of mine has asked that our 227-year old bail system be "reformed" by the General Assembly.

While I do not doubt there is a hard luck story here and there, we surely should not "throw the baby out with the bathwater" by upending a time-tested system that helps to uphold public safety, prudently conserves state and county resources by avoiding the need for jail for certain criminal defendants, and is deeply rooted in the ability of our judges to make informed and nonpartisan decisions about whether bail and other conditions in lieu of jail time are in the public interest.

A rule change that would ensure defendants in Maryland are not kept in jail only because they can't afford bail is headed to the state's highest court for consideration.

We are in store for a major fight in Annapolis about this issue during the upcoming 2017 legislative session. It is important that citizens make their voices heard so that my more liberal colleagues in elective office do not put the views of the trial attorney lobby and the ACLU above the interests of law abiding Marylanders.

Thank you for your consideration of my views in this important matter.

Wayne Norman

State Senator, District 35

The writer represents northern Harford and western Cecil counties in the Maryland State Senate. Editor

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