Woman who appealed high bail is ordered held without bail

Woman who appealed high bail that she couldn't pay was instead ordered held without bail

A Baltimore woman who appealed a bail that a judge said she knew she couldn't pay is now being held without bail.

Circuit Judge Charles Peters granted a new bail hearing for Nicole Easley on Tuesday. But he said he believed there would be no pretrial conditions that could ensure the safety of her alleged victim.

Easley is accused of stabbing her boyfriend in the stomach after looking through his phone. She is charged with attempted murder.

Circuit Judge Yolanda Tanner set Easley's bail at $750,000 during a hearing in September. At the bench, Tanner told one of her clerks that she knew Easley, who is taking care of six children and was out of work, couldn't pay — but she was "throwing her a bone."

The remark was picked up by courthouse recording equipment. For defense attorneys and bail reform advocates who have long suspected judges were setting high bails knowing defendants wouldn't be able to pay, it was revealing.

Maryland rules require that bail be used to only assure a defendant shows up for trial. Attorney General Brian Frosh recently wrote an opinion saying holding defendants in jail when they can't afford to pay cash bail was likely unconstitutional.

But the alternative, as Easley found out Tuesday, could be more defendants being held without bail.

University of Baltimore law professor Colin Starger, who attended Tuesday's hearing, said ordering people held without bail is also problematic.

In Easley's case, he said, the difference is moot. She couldn't pay $750,000, and now she is being held without bail.

But he said Peters' decision at least comported with the Maryland rules.

"Having clarity is helpful, and then we can move the system in the direction so the presumption of innocence is maintained," Starger said.

Assistant State's Attorney Stacie Sawyer told Peters at the outset of the hearing that Easley should not be granted bail. She said the victim's injuries took hours of surgery to repair and Easley lied to police about the incident.

Easley's attorneys argued that she had no criminal convictions and "no indication she is violent by nature." They said she could be released under home monitoring or regular check-ins with pretrial services.

An order to stay away from the victim was already in place.

"She has no desire to have any contact with the victim," said Adam Shareef, a law student with University of Baltimore's Pretrial Justice Clinic, which took on Easley's appeal.

Peters called the allegations against Easley "pretty horrific" and expressed concern about home detention being ineffective.

"Can't [she] just get out?" he said. "What good would that do me?"

Shareef said Peters could impose an "unsecured bail," in which the defendant does not have to put any money down but is on the hook for the amount if they do not appear in court.

"It's not a matter of bail," Peters said. "It's a matter of access" to the victim.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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