AUGUSTA – One thing most people with experience in Maine’s Judicial or jail system would agree on is a need to reform Maine’s bail laws. Some say that as many as two-thirds of the people in Maine’s jails right now have not been convicted of a crime – they are awaiting trial and unable to make bail. The system as it currently stands places a heavy burden on taxpayers and to the loved ones and dependents of those in jail awaiting trial.
be found across the state of household breadwinners in low-income households
being arrested and held because they are unable to make bail.
for reform argue that the bail system itself is built upon a centuries old
system where bail was treated more as a penalty for not appearing in court for
your crimes than as it currently is – which looks more like paying for your
freedom before being found guilty.
But a new bill in the Maine Legislature is proposing to overhaul Maine’s bail system, and some of the changes are likely to hit opposition for a new, looser approach to releasing some Mainers accused of crimes.
The bill also would remove the requirement that a defendant consent to submit to random searches for possession or use of alcohol or illicit drugs, and it removes the requirement for a defendant to regularly report to their attorney.
The bill, L.D. 1421 is titled An Act to Amend the Maine Bail Code and is sponsored by Rep. Rachel Talbot-Ross. It received strong support from bail reform and prisoner advocates at a public hearing in late February, but chatter had been picking up that some of the reforms may go too far.
In the original bill text, the bail
reform proposal “Clarified the rebuttable presumption that, except for formerly
capital offenses a defendant must be released on personal recognizance with no
Maine Bail Code defines “formerly
capital offenses” as “crimes
which have been denominated capital offenses since the adoption of the
Constitution of Maine.”
formerly capital offenses are murder, treason, rape, armed robbery, armed
burglary of a dwelling at night and arson of a dwelling at night. (Harnish
v. State, 1987).
That fundamentally meant that anyone arrested for any crime that was not one of those six crimes would have been released on personal recognizance with no ability to require bail.
language brought forward by the bill sponsor in testimony at the public hearing,
the bill would only allow bail for those arrested for more serious crimes, such
as the aforementioned “formerly capital offenses” and other Class D or worse
crimes, which carry maximum sentences of more than six months in jail and maximum
fines of $2,000 to $50,000.
language passes, many arrests will no longer result in a person being required
to make bail. Some Class E crimes are relatively minor in regard to public
safety, such as violations of Maine’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife laws.
Others include laws that forbid shooting of domestic animals; criminal trespass;
theft by unauthorized taking or transfer; theft by deception and many more.
The new language
also proposes other changes, including removing “from the list of potential conditions
of release for preconviction bail being required to submit to a random search for
possession or use of alcohol or illegal use of drugs when use or possession is prohibited
by a condition of release, and being required to report on a regular basis to the
“One of the things that moved me to sponsor
this bill, and also struck me about the driver’s licenses bill, is the idea that
some of our laws intended to punish people for doing wrong end up punishing people
more severely than the nature of the wrong. In doing so, the laws also end up disproportionately
harming that person, as Well as exacting damage on their children, families, schools
and communities in the process,” said Rep. Talbot-Ross in testimony to the
Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee.
Bail reform laws across the nation
have been a mixed bag.
In New York, the state’s recent bail
reforms have come under fire from Republicans and some Democrats, who argue
that the reforms have triggered more people to commit crimes and unleashed a
wave of repeat offenders. The issue became so serious that New York City’s
largest police union declared
a “public safety emergency.”