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Legal Counsel At Bail Hearings Prompts Disagreement Among Maryland Lawmakers

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In the waning days of this year's Maryland General Assembly session, a fight is brewing on how to respond to a court ruling ensuring that all defendants receive legal representation at bail hearings.

That ruling — DeWolfe versus Richmond (pdf)— will be very costly for the state and local governments, more than $100 million combined.

Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County) has introduced a bill that would create a computer system to determine whether a bail hearing is even needed for all defendants, believing that will cut costs because most non-violent offenders don't need one. But Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore) thinks that solution is rife with problems. He believes it's unconstitutional as well as dangerous.

"So what happens if the computer system goes down? And to say it will never happen is an inaccurate thing to say. And we've heard that before," Zirkin says. "And so when there's a mistake made and that person loses their liberty for a night and something bad happens in jail, like they're sexually assaulted?"

Zirkin introduced his own bill yesterday, creating a state constitutional amendment overturning the court ruling, something Frosh believes is unconstitutional and unrealistic.

"I'm skeptical that we can craft a constitutional amendment that doesn't violate the 6th amendment to the United States Constitution, but carves out of our own declaration rights the rights that are granted in the DeWolfe vs. Richmond decision," Frosh says.

Time is running out for lawmakers who would have to get something passed in the Senate and then sent for approval in the House in the 12 days before the session ends.

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