News Release ~ 09/25/2013

Another State Recognizes Counsel is Required at First Appearance Where Liberty is at Stake

Washington, DC (September 25, 2013) – The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, today ruled in a 4-3 decision that “under Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, an indigent defendant is entitled to state-furnished counsel at an initial hearing before a District Court Commissioner.” This means that every person brought before a bail commissioner throughout the State of Maryland is entitled to have a lawyer argue for his or her release before bail is set, regardless of the individual’s ability to pay for counsel. At least a dozen states and the District of Columbia have now explicitly recognized this right. The case is DeWolfe v. Richmond, No. 34. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the plaintiffs.

NACDL President Jerry J. Cox praised the decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals, “Fifty years after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, Maryland has recognized another obvious truth – that defendants require counsel to deal with pre-trial issues such as bail just as much as they need counsel to deal with the trial itself.”

NACDL strongly advocates for the right to counsel throughout the nation at initial appearance before a judicial officer at which liberty is at stake or at which a plea of guilty to any criminal charge may be entered. See Board Resolution Urging Recognition of Right to Counsel at Initial Appearance. The majority in today’s decision recognized a number of the reasons why the vindication of this right is so critical:

“As numerous briefs to this Court pointed out, the failure of a Commissioner to consider all the facts relevant to a bail determination can have devastating effects on the arrested individuals. Not only do the arrested individuals face health and safety risks posed by prison stays, but the arrested individuals may be functionally illiterate and unable to read materials related to the charges. Additionally, they may be employed in low wage jobs which could be easily lost because of incarceration. Moreover, studies show that the bail amounts are often improperly affected by race.” (at 5)

NACDL was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Maryland, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. The brief was written by Christina M. Gattuso, of the Washington, D.C. office of Kilpatrick Townsend and Stockton LLP, and Gia L. Cincone of Kilpatrick’s San Francisco office. A copy of the brief may be downloaded from NACDL’s website: Download brief.

A link to today’s Maryland Court of Appeals decision in DeWolfe v. Richmond is available here.

Please contact Ivan J. Dominguez, Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or idominguez@nacdl.org for more information.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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