ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Attorney General Douglas Gansler is urging Maryland’s top court to overturn its decision that arrestees have a right to counsel at initial bail hearings.

The Daily Record reports that Gansler argued in papers filed Tuesday with the Court of Appeals that the court was wrong to hold that the due-process provision in Maryland’s constitution requires defendants to be provided counsel at this pre-trial stage. The Court of Appeals has scheduled arguments in the case for March 7.

Liberty is not directly at stake in an initial hearing, he said, as it is in a bail review hearing before a judge and at trial, when counsel is constitutionally mandated.

“An initial appearance conducted in accordance with the existing rules does not affect the fairness of the trial or impair the defendant’s ability to defend on the merits,” Gansler wrote. “Instead, for most arrestees, the initial appearance principally serves to enhance liberty, by providing an early opportunity for release from custody after an arrest.”

The high court will hear the state’s arguments that a Baltimore judge, citing the high court’s ruling, improperly ordered that attorneys be provided for indigent defendants at initial bail hearings. The 4-3 ruling has prompted all three branches of government to examine how the state can comply with a mandate that counsel be provided at initial bail hearings. Maryland Public Defender Paul DeWolfe estimated it could cost at least $28 million annually.

“This appeal presents an opportunity for this court to correct a mistake,” Gansler wrote. “The court’s declaration of a right to have counsel present at the initial appearance does not advance any of these fundamental constitutional guarantees” of due process, he added.

Information from: The Daily Record of Baltimore,

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