House committee votes to slow down bail reforms

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - A House committee has decided to delay the Senate’s plan to rework Maryland’s bail hearing process.

The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to test the Senate’s plan in certain counties and re-evaluate it after three years.

The Senate’s plan is what Sen. Brian Frosh calls a “moneyball” approach. It would use data on each defendant, such as criminal history, to assess the person’s risk of skipping court dates or committing more crimes if they were released from jail. Low-risk defendants would be released automatically.

Many delegates remain leery of leaving these decisions to a mathematical formula. They want a commission to gather data on how it’s working, and then to make a recommendation in 2017 on whether Maryland should adopt the system statewide.

The commission could also tweak the system during this time, to tailor the data it uses for Maryland’s particular needs.

Lawmakers began talking about changing the state’s bail hearing process following a Court of Appeals decision that requires Maryland to provide defense lawyers at all bail hearings for poor defendants. Frosh’s bill would help avoid this requirement at the earliest bail stage because it would not require a human to decide whether the defendant should be released.

The requirement is set to take effect in June. Delegates hope the Court of Appeals will push back that date while the commission studies its options.

The committee heard testimony Tuesday from Kim Wagner, a state auditor who previously led the Virginia State Crime Commission.

When Virginia implemented a risk-assessment tool like the one Maryland is considering, it took about three years to prepare for statewide use, she said. State officials wanted it tailored to Virginia’s judicial system and demography.

Kentucky’s risk-assessment system took about two-and-a-half years to prepare, she said.

By contrast, Frosh’s bill specifies that Maryland would start using risk assessment in certain counties later this year and would take the system statewide in 2015.

Del. Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery, said the state should at least slow down the process.

The legislative session ends Monday. If the two chambers don’t reach a resolution by then, each county might have to shoulder the cost of hiring extra attorneys to staff bail hearings if the Court of Appeals requirement takes effect as scheduled, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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