Cash bail has become an increasingly controversial system in Maryland and elsewhere. In past years, people who were unable to afford bail in Maryland would languish in jail, often for misdemeanor crimes like larceny and drunk driving. Clients sometimes ask our criminal defense lawyer: “What if you can’t afford bail in Maryland?” The good news is people who lack the money to afford bail now have more options than previously.
In 2017, Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals adopted a landmark ruling taking aim at the practice of holding criminal defendants in jail before trial when they cannot afford bail. The Baltimore Sun reported the seven-member Court of Appeals unanimously backed a compromise. The justices stopped short of abolishing bail money bail, as some people urged, but instructed court commissioners and judges to consider other ways to ensure a defendant appears for trial.
Bail remains a fraught process for many defendants whose life has been turned upside down by an arrest. Baltimore bail bonds hearing lawyer Randolph Rice looks at the issue of what to do if you cannot afford to post bail. This blog is not intended to represent legal advice.
What to Do if You Can’t Afford Bail in Maryland
Not everyone can afford bail in Maryland. Judges and commissioners are now less likely to set cash bail than a few years ago but it’s still an important tool at their disposal. According to the Maryland Reporter, the number of defendants held on cash bonds declined from 35 percent to 14 percent from 2017 to 2018. However, the report found bail reforms in Maryland failed to lead to fewer people being held in jail before their trials.
Not all defendants will be granted bail. If you are charged with an offense such as homicide, organized drug crimes, and firearm offenses, you likely will not be eligible for pretrial release.
Judges and commissioners must consider the finances of defendants before setting a bail amount. If you have to make a cash bail to be released, you should not despair. Many avenues are open to you. It makes sense to consult an experienced Baltimore criminal defense lawyer to discuss your options. Consider the following routes.
Talk to a Family Member or a Friend
Family members often stump up bail for relatives who are held in jail. Although bail typically costs thousands of dollars, they are acutely aware of the risks of leaving a loved one in jail. As well as being hazardous places, jails can deny needed medications to inmates and cause additional psychological problems. Friends may also pay the bail amount. As long as you show up to scheduled court hearings, your family member or friend will get their money back.
The person who posts bail on your behalf must be 18-years-old or over. A percentage of the total amount may be posted for cash bonds. Bonds set at $2,500 or less can be posted with a cash despot of 10 percent. This makes it easier to post bail but the full amount is due if a defendant misses a court hearing or fails to comply with other conditions of bail.
Use a Bail Bondman
If you can’t afford bail in Maryland and a family member or friend won’t help, you can use a bail bondsman. The bondsman charges a non-refundable fee to post bail on your behalf – usually 10 or 15 percent of the total amount. If, for example, bail is set at $15,000, you may have to pay $1,500. The bondsman may also require collateral security or additional property to secure your release.
This helps ensure you keep your half of the bargain and show up to court appearances. Any property or collateral is returned if you comply with your bail conditions. The bondsman takes on the liability to pay the full bail amount if you fail to show up to your court hearing.
There are some risks of using a bail bondsman. If something goes wrong or the bonding company cancels the bond, you are liable for paying the entire bail amount, or the defendant got back to jail until the money is paid.
Put Up Collateral
A defendant may be able to put up collateral to secure bail such as real estate or other assets. Property bonds are occasionally used in Maryland, usually when a defendant has considerable assets. The bond agreement allows the court to enforce a lien, foreclose, or collect the take the property when a defendant fails to show up to a hearing. The lien is released at the end of the case.
Request a Lower Bail Amount
The defendant can request a lower amount if he or she believes the judge or commissioner has set an unreasonably high bond. Your attorney will make a case in a formal hearing. The amount of the bail bond is usually determined by a set schedule. The amount is tied to the seriousness of the offense you face. However, the judge or the commissioner has leeway to deviate from the set amount.
It’s important to talk to your criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible if you can’t afford bail. Your attorney can represent you at a bail hearing and highlight the ordeal you face.
The landmark decision by Maryland Court of Appeals in 2017 means defendants should not be held in jail in the state if they can’t afford to make bail. In practice, it may still happen. Your attorney will outline the important facts of your case at a bail hearing. This is not your trial and the judge is not looking to make a decision on your innocence or guilt.
Talk to an Attorney if You Can’t Afford Bail in Maryland
It’s important to talk to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after your arrest in Maryland. The whole bail process is very stressful and you should have clear legal advice before you pay money to a bail bondsman or get a family member to help you. Legal representation is important in the first 24 hours after an arrest so as you know your rights.
At the Law Office of Randolph Rice, we can represent you in every step of the criminal law process from pretrial hearings, bail hearings, your eventual trial, and appeals. We are well aware of the importance of getting out of a jail cell as soon as possible. Please talk to our Maryland criminal defense team as soon as possible at (410) 431-0911.