Maryland High Court Holds Firm on Right to Criminal Defense

The Maryland Rules of Criminal Procedure require that a person who is arrested be brought before a judicial officer for an initial hearing soon after the arrest. The initial hearing is an important step in the criminal justice system.

Typically, the hearing is before a commissioner, and historically few people have an attorney present at these hearings, according to the Maryland Court of Appeals. At the hearing several issues are to be dealt with, including decisions concerning possible continued detention and bail if probable cause is found to support the arrest.

When people think of criminal charges and jail time, it may be common for some to think about the loss of liberty that may follow a conviction--if a person is sentenced to time behind bars. But, in the real world, many people are held in jail while awaiting trial. The initial hearing is where a commissioner may first set bail (which may be modified in a review at a later time). In September, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that because liberty is at stake in an initial hearing, a defendant has the right to be represented by an attorney.

State attorneys asked the high court to hold off on the ruling to allow the state time to find money to provide lawyers to defendants who are unable to hire a lawyer. Earlier this month, the high court rejected the state's request.

Constitutional rights are important and vital parts of the integrity of our system of justice. The right to have a criminal defense lawyer for representation is among the vital rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

Source: CBS Baltimore, "Md. High Court Upholds Ruling: Poor Defendants Entitled To Lawyer At Bail Hearing," Nov. 7, 2013