Today, the ACLU of Maryland is highlighting an article from the Maryland Daily Record that gives a much-needed spotlight on legislation moving quickly through the General Assembly that is an assault on the constitutional due process rights of the poor and minorities. House Bill 153 would deny the constitutional right to representation by the Office of the Public Defender to an indigent individual after the conclusion of the bail hearing, forcing the OPD to go through the unnecessary and wasteful process of re-qualifying someone.
HB 153 runs afoul of constitutional requirements, as an individual is entitled to appointed counsel during any "critical stage" of the legal process. For those who are granted bail, this bill will compound the already difficult burdens on defendants to prove their income-eligibility by denying them representation as they await eligibility by the OPD. The need for counsel after bail hearings is especially acute in Maryland, where there are wide racial disparities as to who is arrested and detained. Overall, the vast majority of these minority defendants are poor and require the assistance of public defenders.
From the Daily Record:
Published on April 4th
Written by: Steve Lash
ANNAPOLIS - Over the objection of the Maryland public defender and civil rights advocates, the full Senate will soon consider legislation that would require defendants to reapply for free legal assistance after they either post bond or are released on their own recognizance pending trial.
"I think the bill is unconstitutional," Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe said Thursday. "It deprives an individual of the right to counsel."
The measure, House Bill 153, would essentially strip a defendant of his or her attorney after a bail hearing and insist they reapply for public defender assistance, DeWolfe said. The reapplication process is "unreasonable" and "duplicative" because the accused, to be provided a public defender, must already sign an affidavit of qualification prior to the bail hearing, he added.
Defendants at bail hearings have "been fully represented by an attorney and that attorney is taken away from them," DeWolfe said, adding that valuable time is lost when the accused must reapply for an attorney and that lawyer must get up to speed on the case.
"It punishes indigent defendants," he said.
But Del. Curt Anderson, the bill's chief sponsor, and other supporters say the reapplication requirement ensures the public defender's office is representing at trial only those defendants who qualify financially for the free legal aid.