ACLU Decries Bill that Would Deny Public Defenders to Poor People

April 2, 2013

Download ACLU of Maryland testimony on HB 153

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 2, 2013

 

CONTACT: Meredith Curtis, Communications Director, 410-889-8555; media@aclu-md.org 

Joanna Diamond, Public Policy Associate, 240-506-1377; diamond@aclu-md.org

 

ANNAPOLIS - Today, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland joins a coalition to speak out strongly against House Bill 153 - Office of the Public Defender - Representation at Bail Hearing - Provisional, which would deny the constitutional right to representation by the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) to an indigent individual after the conclusion of the bail hearing, forcing the OPD to go through the process of re-qualifying someone. The legislation, which has troubling momentum, passed the House of Delegates and received a hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. 

 

The legislation was also opposed by the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, OPD, and others. 

 

"It is not only a waste of both time and money, but a violation of individuals rights to counsel to end representation after bail hearings and force them to be re-qualified for counsel," said Sara Love, Public Policy Director of the ACLU of Maryland. 

 

HB 153 runs afoul of constitutional requirements, as an individual is entitled to appointed counsel during any "critical stage" of the legal process. For those who are granted bail, this bill will compound the already difficult burdens on defendants to prove their income-eligibility by denying them representation as they await eligibility by the OPD. 

 

The legislation would especially penalize and threaten the rights of minorities. The need for counsel after bail hearings is especially acute in Maryland where there are wide racial disparities as to who is arrested and detained. The vast majority of these minority defendants are poor and require the assistance of public defenders. 

 

###