Andrea F. Siegel at the Baltimore Sun reports:
Maryland’s top court could make it much more difficult for undocumented immigrants to secure bail bonds, in a case likely to resolve long-standing questions about whether bondsmen are on the hook when clients get deported beforetrial.
In a case pending at the Court of Appeals, Big Louie Bail Bonds has been ordered to pay more than $100,000 in Baltimore County in bail forfeitures after 10 defendants were deported before their criminal trials. Lower courts ruled that the company knew — or should have known — it was taking on clients with a high risk of deportation.
“We can’t afford to be in business like that. It just won’t be worth it,” said Luis Contreras, one of the owners of Big Louie, a Baltimore-based company that writes more than 800 bonds a year in the Hispanic community.
Unlike most criminal proceedings, cases against immigrants can set off a separate federal process that carries the threat of deportation. Those who are already in the country illegally may have to deal with the state courts and federal immigration authorities at the same time.
At issue is who should bear the financial responsibility when immigration enforcement moves faster than a court case, sending the defendant out of the country before trial.
Maryland has the 10th largest unauthorized immigrant population in the country, an estimated 275,000 people — or close to 5 percent of the state’s population, according to the Pew Research Center.
Difficulty in obtaining bond would be “troubling within the community,” said Kim Propeack, political action director for Casa de Maryland, the state’s largest immigrant advocacy organization.
The state offers immigrants the same opportunity as other defendants to post bail so they can be released while awaiting trial, and bondsmen say it’s unfair to penalize them when the federal government deports their clients before their state cases are resolved.
Assistant Attorney General Beatrice Nunez-Bellamy told the Court of Appeals in December that bondsmen should know before they collect fees for posting bond — often from defendants’ families — that they are taking a chance on someone who might be deported before trial.
In the case before the court, Big Louie posted then forfeited bail for defendants who were never released from jail. Instead, the alleged criminals were held at the direction of the federal government, picked up by immigration authorities, and after federal proceedings, sent out of the United States.
Defendants in Maryland have also been released, then taken into custody and deported by federal authorities while out on bail.
Bonding companies charge defendants a fee to post the money required for pretrial release, and can require collateral in order to assume the risk that a client won’t show up in court. The service is popular because it allows people to get out of jail before trial without putting up a large amount of their own money. Bondsmen charge a small percentage of the bail amount for their services.
Bondsmen are liable to the court for the entire bail amount. They can challenge a court-ordered forfeiture when their clients are deported, but if they lose, bondsmen have the choice of suing whoever has guaranteed the bail for reimbursement. Such situations can prove costly for both bondsmen and their clients, who may not be able to pay.