From today’s Daily Record: The right of criminal defendants to be represented by counsel extends to initial bail hearings, Maryland’s top court unanimously ruled Wednesday.
In its 7-0 decision, the Court of Appeals noted a defendant at a bail hearing before a district commissioner stands a similar chance to being incarcerated as he or she does at a trial before a judge, which already carries the statutory and constitutional right to counsel.
“[W]henever a Commissioner determines to set bail, the defendant stands a good chance of losing his or her liberty, even if only for a brief time,” Judge Mary Ellen Barbera wrote in the court’s majority opinion. “Furthermore, the likelihood that the commissioner will give full and fair consideration to all facts relevant to the bail determination can only be enhanced by the presence of counsel.”
By a 5-2 vote, the high court added that the right of defendants to counsel at bail hearings was to take effect immediately. In so ruling, the court rejected a request from the state public defender’s office for a stay so that it could secure the necessary state funding and additional personnel to provide legal representation at bail hearings.
Maryland Legal Aid’s assistant director of advocacy for income security Peter Sabonis wrote a column in The Daily Record last week about the proposed dismantling of the public defender’s “Neighborhood Defender” office in northwest Baltimore. “It’s ironic and dispiriting to think that publicly funded criminal defense work made more efficient and effective by the positive relationships developed by defenders on the ground could be eliminated because of poisonous relationships at the top,” Sabonis wrote. “It’s also something we cannot afford.” To read the column, click here.
Sheila J. Sullivan, the district public defender for Southern Maryland, is restricted by her job from handling “typical types” of pro bono cases. But that doesn’t hold back Sullivan from volunteering to help organizations as diverse as community outreach programs, mentoring programs and, most recently, Legal Aid, where she was appointed to the board of directors for a three-year term, The Daily Record reports today.
Warren S. Oliveri, president of Legal Aid’s board, said her background is a good fit. “We fully expect that having Sheila on the board will give us the opportunity to devise new justice strategies with our partners in the criminal defense community,” to serve clients’ “holistic” needs, Oliveri said.
Read the article here.