Maryland Senate Committee to Vote on Legislation That Would Reverse Progress in Delivery of Indigent Defense Services
Washington, DC (March 29, 2013) – In this, the 50th anniversary year of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is expected to vote early next week on legislation that would reverse progress the state has made in the delivery of defense services to indigent Marylanders accused of a crime. If passed, the measure would then move to the full Senate.
HB 153 was already adopted by the House of Delegates and was the subject of a hearing before this Senate committee on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at which John Gross, Indigent Defense Counsel at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), testified. The legislation’s primary purpose is the erection of bureaucratic, procedural hurdles for Marylanders to secure and retain counsel when they are accused of a crime and cannot afford an attorney. Specifically, under Maryland’s current Public Defender Act, an indigent accused is entitled to court-appointed counsel when they go before a district court judge for a bail hearing (which itself can mean an accused is behind bars for up to 72 hours without a lawyer). If HB 153 becomes law, those defendants who had already qualified for court-appointed counsel will lose that counsel upon being released on their own recognizance or posting bail, and will have to duplicate the very same qualification process with the Office of the Public Defender.
NACDL President Steven D. Benjamin said: “NACDL opposes this legislation because it undercuts the progress Maryland has made toward the fulfillment of Marylanders’ Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The proposed legislation leaves defendants without representation during a critical stage of the proceedings against them. The inability to perform a prompt investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the defendant’s arrest creates the very real possibility that evidence will be lost. It is hard to imagine why the legislature would impose more red tape at taxpayer expense on a public defender system whose resources are already strained beyond capacity.”
The legislature’s consideration of this additional hurdle in obtaining representation is not a result of complaints from the private bar that the Office of the Public Defender is representing clients who could afford to hire counsel. Instead, it appears based on the misguided belief, unsupported by empirical data, that a defendant who manages to post bail must also be able to retain private counsel.
The fiscal note attached to the proposed legislation estimates that the Office of the Public Defender may have to spend an addition $1 million dollars over the next three year to re-interview defendants who they have previously determined were eligible for their services
In addition to NACDL’s opposition, this legislation is opposed by the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, and the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.
Contact: Ivan J. Dominguez, Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or firstname.lastname@example.org.