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Md. Senate advances 'moneyball' bail system bill

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Local,Maryland

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland Senate is now just a vote away from approving a plan to rework the bail system and depend more on data, in what the bill's sponsor calls a "moneyball" approach.

The Senate advanced the bill Friday, rejecting amendments that would have delayed or derailed it.

The bill is a response to a Court of Appeals decision, requiring the state to provide a public defender at every bail hearing for indigent defendants. Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, the sponsor of the data-based plan, says the state could avoid this requirement at the earliest bail stage by replacing the first hearing with an automated system that uses criminal history data.

People who scored as moderate or high risks would be held until a judge could see them, generally within 24 hours.

The requirement is set to take effect in June. Senate President Thomas Mike V. Miller Jr. said that if the General Assembly doesn't take any action, the Court of Appeals may force each county to meet the need individually by paying private attorneys.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, wants to overturn the court's ruling by amending Maryland's constitution. Under his plan, court employees could start using more data-based tools in their bail decisions, but Maryland wouldn't switch to an automated system.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee plans to review that suggestion Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Zirkin said, the House Judiciary Committee appears poised to advance a solution very different from Frosh's bill.

Zirkin likened Frosh's plan to the dystopian movie "Minority Report", in which police use technology to arrest would-be criminals before they can do harm.

Frosh said the more apt comparison is with "Moneyball," where the Oakland A's baseball team make scouting decisions with complex data formulas instead of relying on scouts' observations and instincts.

Also Friday, the Senate accepted a bill amendment proposed by Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington.

Shank wants to give police officers the power to have defendants jailed until a judge could see them. This would bypass the ordinary pretrial process, and it would be reserved for cases where a police officer had reason to believe someone who scored as "low risk" was actually dangerous.

The officer would have to explain his reasons in a signed affidavit and appear before a judge the next day.

Zirkin and others argued that this gives police too much power. But Shank said police officers can already keep defendants in holding cells before presenting them to court commissioners in jail.

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