As a Baltimore Maryalnd Criminal Attorney I am often hired to try to secure a defendants’ release on bail. Generally speaking, when a person is arrested by the police and charged with a criminal offense in Maryland, the law requires that the person be brought before a court commissioner within 24 hours. The commissioner will conduct a hearing in which he or she will explain to the person what they are charged with, what the maximum penalties are and their right to an attorney. The commissioner will then set the conditions of the person’s pre-trial release to include bail.
Many people make the mistake of not hiring counsel at this point to advise them as to how the bail can be posted at this point or whether the person should wait to see a Judge at a bail review hearing. These hearings are required to take place on the the next day in which the courts are open so very often it is only a matter of hours until this hearing. The reason I say it is a mistake not have the advice of an experienced criminal attorney at this point is that the commissioners, who are not attorneys much less judges and generally speaking have little or no legal training, very often set bails that are much higher or much lower than the amount at which a judge is likely to set in the case. Many people are unaware that in Maryland a judge may not only lower the defendant’s bail at the bail review hearing but can also raise it. An experienced and aggressive attorney may even be able to determine which judge will be handling the bail review and know what that judge’s tendencies are. Sometimes the advice may be to bail the person out before the hearing. In other circumstances it may be to wait for the hearing if the attorney knows who the judge is and is confident that the bail will be lowered if the person is properly represented at the hearing.
I have seen many cases in which a person’s bail has been set very low by the commissioner and the family or friends of the person don’t bail the defendant out when any knowledgeable attorney would have been able to advise them that the judge was very likely to raise the bail. I have also seen the opposite situation where a client’s family posts far more bail then the would have had to post had then waited for the bail review and been properly represented at the hearing.
There are also many cases where whether or not the person was represented at the bail review, the bail is simply too high for the family to post. In these situations a experienced criminal attorney will be able to advise the client and his family whether or not he should file a Petition for habeas corpus or a bail review in Circuit Court. I file these petitions on a regular basis, particularly in Baltimore County and am more often than not successful in obtaining substantial reductions in the bail.
I had a case this week in Baltimore County Circuit Court this week on a Habeas Petition. The defendant is just 18 and was charged with attempted murder resulting from a fight involving several people on either side. The family immediately retained us after the commissioner held their son without bail. We handled the bail review on Thursday in the District Court. Unfortunately we drew a very tough judge and his no bail status was ordered to be continued by the judge. On our advice, the family retained us to file a Petition for Habeas Corpus in the Circuit Court. We delivered by a courrier the request to the court on the same day and were able to have the case scheduled the following Tuesday. In the interim we were able to gain additional information about the case to include the fact that the alleged victims, who had been listed initially in critical condition, had been release from the hospital. At the hearing in the Circuit Court we presented this information and the judge set bail in the amount of $75,000. Still a substantial bail but one the family could and did in fact make.
The bottom line is that when a person is arrested, the decisions about bail need to be made quickly and correctly. If the wrong decision is made, the result is often that the defendant must remain in jail for months before the trial date. This happens surprisingly often in cases in which the defendant will never be convicted or even if he is convicted, will not serve a jail sentence. Having the advice of an experienced criminal lawyer is very often the difference between making the right decision or the wrong decision at this critical stage of the criminal process.