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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Maryland-Baltimore Law Clinic Works to Educate Defendants About Their Pretrial Rights

University of Maryland-Baltimore School of Law:  Students in the Access to Justice Clinic and Doug Colbert, JD, their professor in the School of Law, have taken a radical approach in their efforts to help low-income detainees in the pretrial release system obtain a fair bail review-they have written the pamphlet, "Law Students' Guide to Maryland's Pretrial Release System: Things You Should Know." Colbert and his students unveiled the pamphlet at a news conference at the law school on Nov. 2.

Set for distribution to pretrial detention centers across the state of Maryland, the pamphlet is intended to provide access to justice for defendants when they first enter the criminal justice system. It attempts to fill a glaring gap in the state system, which does not provide counsel to lower income defendants when they first appear before a court commissioner and when they next appear at most bail review hearings. Indigent defendants are left to speak for themselves. A 2004 Maryland Court of Appeals ruling unanimously found that statements from an unrepresented defendant, who was not given Miranda warnings, are admissible at trial, despite a Maryland statute that provides for a public defender's representation at all stages of a criminal proceeding.

The pamphlet has been in the planning stages since the fall semester of 2004. Law students Dana Boston ('06) and Rommel Loria ('06) were surprised to learn that defendants are not automatically provided with counsel.  "When clients are represented in the early stages of the trial process, it does make a difference," said Boston.

Defense attorney Warren A. Brown lauded the students' efforts. "We are concerned about the protection of the individual," he said. Brown said that many detainees will, if they do not make bail, plead guilty even if innocent, in the hope of getting out of jail.

Colbert says the long-term goal behind the pamphlet is to ensure that indigent defendants' right to counsel extends to the bail stage and "to require the State to provide a lawyer when an accused first appears before a District Court commissioner and bail review judge."

During the drafting process, the students consulted with and received support and approval from Mary Ann Saar, secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services; Ben C. Clyburn, chief judge of the District Court of Baltimore City; Patricia C. Jessamy, state's attorney for Baltimore City; and the defense bar.

The pamphlets are being distributed to all Maryland detention centers and will eventually be translated into Spanish.

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