- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Former Attorney General Eric Holder urged Maryland’s highest court on Thursday to reform the state’s pretrial system so that people are not held in jail simply because they can’t afford bail.

Holder told the seven-member Court of Appeals that Maryland’s written rules for pretrial release lay a strong foundation for an effective pretrial system, but the rules are implemented in a way that leads to unjust incarceration of the poor.

“There is a growing consensus around the country that pretrial reform is necessary,” Holder testified.

But Paul Clement, former U.S. solicitor general, testified that the bail system was designed to avoid unnecessary detention.

“In short, the availability of a secured bond is an important part of the solution to the problem,” Clement said. “It is not part of the problem.”

The court heard hours of testimony Thursday, and judges went into the evening discussing when they would decide on pretrial rule changes proposed by the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure. The court delayed voting on the rule changes until next month.

In October, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh urged the committee to ensure judicial officers consider an individual’s ability to pay bail, and not set financial conditions solely for the purpose of detaining a defendant.

“There are people in jail in the state of Maryland because they’re poor,” Frosh told the court Thursday.

In November, the panel voted for a new rule that authorizes a judicial officer to impose financial conditions only when no other conditions of release will reasonably ensure the defendant’s appearance. The rule also would prohibit a judicial officer from imposing a financial condition that the officer knows or has reason to believe the defendant can’t pay and resulting in the defendant being detained solely because of that reason.

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