11/3/2010

By Griffin Finan

A Maryland state circuit court judge in Quinton Richmond et al. v. District Court of Maryland et al. ruled that the initial bail hearing is a “critical stage” of a criminal proceeding meaning that it is subject to the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel, reversing previous holdings of the Court of Appeals.  The opinion cited the 2008 Supreme Court case Rothgery v. Gillespie County, Texas, where the court found that a criminal defendant’s initial appearance before a magistrate where the defendant’s liberty is subject to restriction, marks the initiation of adversarial judicial proceedings and thus triggers the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.  The court’s opinion was that the initial bail hearings in Maryland held before a commissioner, are similar enough to the hearings at issue in Rothgery as to trigger the same Sixth Amendment protections.             

            In the initial appeal the plaintiffs succeeded in getting the judgment vacated by the Maryland Court of Appeals, sending the case back to the circuit court level and ordering the plaintiffs to add the Public Defender’s Office as a defendant.  The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the district court on all counts in the initial case. 

Initially, it may seem odd that the Public Defender’s Office is challenging this ruling, but the motive for the challenge is budgetary issues and not an ideological opposition.  The Public Defender’s Office said they agreed with the plaintiffs that a right to counsel exists at the bail stage, but they will argue on appeal that there is no remedy available for the ruling.  The court was aware of that the defendants raised “budgetary matters” in their arguments and that the Public Defender’s Office contends that they do not have the resources to represent all individuals who would be implicated by this decision.  Only Baltimore City, Montgomery County, and Harford County currently make public defenders available for bail review hearings in the state.