Baltimore, MD (September 26, 2013) – Lawyers from Venable LLP won a decisive victory in an on-going right-to-counsel case today in the Court of Appeals of Maryland, successfully litigating a constitutional challenge to Maryland’s denial of counsel at bail hearings.
In its 4-3 ruling, the court said the Maryland Constitution’s Declaration of Rights requires that indigent defendants be provided state-furnished counsel at initial appearances before a District Court Commissioner, at which point bail is set or the suspects are released on their own recognizance. If bail is set but cannot be paid, the defendant is sent to jail, where he or she remains until a bail review hearing, usually within 24 hours but sometimes 72 hours or longer.
The court, in an opinion by retired Judge John C. Eldridge, interpreted Article 24 of the Declaration of Rights — the Constitution’s due process provision — to hold that the right to counsel “attaches in any proceeding that may result in the defendant’s incarceration,” including an initial bail hearing.
This pro bono class action has been litigated by Venable attorneys for many years. Two years ago, the team had won on statutory grounds and established the right to counsel at both initial bail hearings and bail review hearings. After that win, the General Assembly modified the statute to limit the right to representation to bail review hearings. Now the Venable team has won on constitutional grounds, which means that counsel will have to be provided for indigent arrestees at all bail hearings in Maryland.
The case, titled Quinton Richmond, et al. v. District Court of Maryland, et al., was originally filed in November 2006. It has been litigated by a Venable team led by Michael Schatzow and Mitchell Y. Mirviss, of the firm’s Baltimore and Rockville offices.
“This is a complete win for the indigent of Maryland,” said Schatzow. “They will now have the right to be represented by counsel throughout the judicial process including at bail hearings. We are gratified that in spite of strenuous opposition from some quarters, justice and fairness have prevailed.”
“Maryland has rejected the rule of incarceration without representation,” said Mirviss. “All indigent defendants now will have an attorney by their side when their liberty is at stake.”
The Venable attorneys brought the case in 2006 after law students from the Access to Justice Clinic at the Francis M. Carey Maryland School of Law asked the firm to bring the case after seeing in their clinical work the problems with Maryland bail hearings. Under the tutelage of Professor Douglas Colbert, the law students worked with the Venable team to help prepare the lawsuit and develop legal arguments. Professor Colbert has long championed reforms of Maryland’s bail systems and collaborated with the Venable lawyers throughout the case.
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