Maryland, like many other states, is struggling to manage the growing backlog of criminal cases on its docket, especially those related to drug crimes.
All too often, poor defendants end up staying in jail for a long period of time while they wait on a trial date for no better reason than they cannot afford bail. Pretrial services were developed as an alternative to traditional bail. The goal is the better management of defendants’ needs while still adequately assuring the court that defendants will return for trial.
While still not available all over Maryland, the pretrial services program has met with considerable success where it has been implemented. When the program is available, it gives defendants the following benefits:
- Poor defendants are not trapped in jail unnecessarily while their case works its way through the system.
- Participating defendants are able to keep working and supporting their families for the duration of their case.
- Defendants who have been self-medicating their mental health conditions with street drugs are able to obtain the mental health treatment they need.
- Defendants who have an addiction or substance abuse problem may go through rehab to break their addictions.
- Typically, judges take a defendant’s participation in a pretrial supervision program into account during sentencing, which can result in a more lenient sentence.
The use of pretrial services is an acknowledgment that the bail system still widely in use remains unfair to many low-income defendants. It often results in two tiers of defendants — those who can afford bail and those who can’t. Those who are able to leave the jail can take advantage of opportunities to turn their personal situations around, something that can work in their favor in court. The inability to do this puts poor defendants at further disadvantage.
If you’re facing criminal charges due to drug possession or some other offense, talk to your attorney about the possibility of entering a pretrial supervisory or diversion program in your area.