Top court expands right to counsel

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.

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