Last Minute Push to Stop Public Defender Bill
Thursday, April 4, 2013
ANNAPOLIS, Md. - A Maryland Senate committee is poised to vote on a bill as early as today that would change how people with low incomes are represented by public defenders. The bill would end the representation after a bail hearing and require the defendant to re-apply for help.
Joanna Diamond, public policy associate with ACLU of Maryland, said the bill violates a person's constitutional right to counsel.
"In order to effectively represent a criminal defendant, you need continuity of that representation. Without continuity, it is ineffective," she said.
The legislation would especially threaten the rights of minorities because of wide racial disparities in who is arrested and detained in Maryland, she added.
The General Assembly just passed a law last year that required the Office of the Public Defender to provide representation at bail hearings.
"This basically reverses the progress that the state has made to deliver defense services to indigent Marylanders who are accused of a crime," Diamond said.
Ironically, the law is expected to require more staffing to process the additional applications it calls for. An analysis by the Department of Legislative Services said the Office of the Public Defender is on pace to provide about 78,000 bail reviews a year.
The legislation is available at http://mgaleg.maryland.gov.
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