Bill would make bail tougher for violent crime suspects Court could consider person's risk to community

February 06, 1997|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

The Glendening administration urged legislators yesterday to support a bill that would make it harder for people accused of violent crimes to be released on bail.

"Violent crime is tearing apart the social fabric of our country," Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend told the Senate Judiciary Proceedings Committee. "Simply put, too many people who threaten our families and our communities are being released before trial."

Maryland law allows the courts to consider only whether people might fail to appear for trial, not their potential for violence.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's pretrial release legislation was submitted by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller on behalf of the administration. The bill would require judges and District Court commissioners to consider at the defendant's bond hearing whether the person would flee or pose a danger to another person or the community.

If the court suspects the person might endanger society, the defendant could be denied a pretrial release or have strict conditions attached to his bond -- a measure that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as constitutional, administration officials said.

Senate Bill 235, co-sponsored by Sen. Leo E. Green, a Prince George's Democrat, also would prohibit a District Court commissioner from releasing a suspected violent offender before trial if the person had been convicted of a violent crime. A judge, however, could still grant bail.

Opposition to the bill was minimal at yesterday's hearing. But Frank Dunbaugh, an advocate for prison and justice system reform, said in an interview after the hearing that such legislation does not deter crime.

"They keep thinking they can prevent crime by locking people up and scaring people to death," Dunbaugh said. "If the purpose of it is to prevent future crimes, it's an expensive way to do it and not the best way.

"We don't know that just because somebody is arrested for a crime that they're guilty," he said. "Political protection, that's what it's really designed to do."

The bill, in part, stems from trouble in Prince George's County last year, when two juveniles charged with carjacking were released before trial.

One of the teens was later arrested on robbery charges and a second carjacking charge.

Circuit Judge Vincent J. Femia said Maryland's law didn't allow the court to remand them because only their risk of flight could be considered.

Pub Date: 2/06/97

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