April 7, 2013

For Immediate Release

Diverse Groups Continue Strong Stance against HB 153, Even As Amended

HB 153-Office of the Public Defender-Representation at Bail Hearings-Provisional

A diverse set of groups are applauding Friday's floor debate and special ordering of HB 153 in Maryland's Senate.  HB 153 would automatically cut off public defender representation to tens of thousands of poor people after their bail review, unless they remain incarcerated.  A committee amendment supposedly salvaging the poor person's right to representation is well-intentioned but unworkable, according to the groups.  The groups include the ACLU of Maryland, Maryland's Office of the Public Defender, the Maryland State Bar Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, The Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches and lawyers for the plaintiffs in the DeWolfe v. Richmond case.

"We are now headed into the 90th day of a 90 day session, and we still haven't been presented with one case, with any degree of specificity, that backs the sponsor's claim that people with lots of money are getting represented by the OPD," said Paul B. DeWolfe, Maryland's Public Defender.  

Repeated reference was made to an audit of OPD by the Office of Legislative Audits in 2011, supposedly indicating a need for more supervision of the office's intake and eligibility processes.  But the audit covers a period from 2007 to 2010, predating two Court of Appeals decisions, OPD v. State and DeWolfe v. Richmond, and two pieces of enacted legislation from 2011 and 2012, that completely changed OPD's statute, policies and practices.  "That audit is outdated and irrelevant, and its use on the Senate floor is misleading," said Christine Dufour, an OPD felony trial attorney and part of the agency's Government Relations Division.  

Because the bill strips a person's lawyer from them after bail review, more defendants will show up to court without a lawyer, creating unnecessary postponements and court congestion.  Police, victims and witnesses will have to come back another day, if they can at all.  "There might be Senators who don't care as much as we do about poor people's constitutional rights, but even they ought to be concerned with the downstream effects of this bill," said Joanna Diamond, of the ACLU of Maryland.  

The fiscal estimate for the bill as amended totals about $800,000, and increases annually.  

"Because there are racial disparities in our criminal justice system, something widely acknowledged in the death penalty debate, we know this bill would especially penalize and threaten the rights of minorities," said Senator C. Anthony Muse (D, Prince George's), who on Friday insisted that the bill be special ordered.  


For more information please contact Christine B. DuFour at 301-370-5757.

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