It has been claimed that Maryland court commissioners wield a great deal of power in the criminal court system of our state. Concerning defendants that are taken into custody just before or during a weekend, it is often the court commissioner that ultimately sets the bail for individuals arrested.
Just as the setting of a probationary period or deciding upon conditions of parole, the setting of bail should be a well-thought out process where many factors are weighed. Yet in allowing court commissioners to set bail (most that have never gone to law school nor have any formal education in the process), our system has provided such commissioners with the same powers as judges at criminal arraignments.
Not too long ago, an 18-year old Maryland boy was arrested at his home on an early Friday morning. He and an acquaintance were subsequently charged with first and second-degree assault stemming from an alleged incident that occurred at a high school.
Though the boy had never previously been charged with any crime and though he appeared to be at low risk of flight, a court commissioner set bail at $325,000. The charges against the boy were dismissed one month later after Baltimore police had determined that the charges filed were false.
Bail is just one of many steps that go along with a criminal indictment. As in all other steps in the process, individuals charged with crimes have a right for an attorney to represent them concerning this process.
The boy mentioned above was jailed without any formal questioning even taking place. The parents of the boy, in the meantime, had to expend a great deal of money and effort just to have their son released on bail. Someone needs to be in a position to make sure that the bail process is just.
Source: The Baltimore Sun, “Criminal justice, up close and costly,” by Dan Rodricks, July 18, 2012