WASHINGTON – The Movement Lawyering Clinicat Howard University School of Lawreleased a fact-finding report titled Inside PG County Bond Hearings, detailing civil rights concerns they uncovered while observing bond hearings in Prince George's County, Md. Over the course of three months, law students in the Clinic collectively observed approximately 100 hours of bond hearings. Through these hearings, students discovered several troubling trends relating to due process rights, judicial ethics and conduct, and over-criminalization. The content of this report solely represents the views of the authors, not Howard University or the School of Law.
"The bond hearings in Prince George's County are a perfect and horrifying example of how inherently violent our system is,” said Rachel Palmer, a 2L law student in the Clinic and one of the report’s authors. “Even in a majority Black county with a Black State's Attorney and many Black judges, Black and Brown people are treated as disposable on a daily basis."
The report details instances of judges yelling at handcuffed defendants to pull their masks over their faces, judges ignoring defendants when they raised that they could not hear the proceedings against them, and translation services being ineffective or lacking. Additionally, the report describes how the State Attorney's no-cash bond stance (one Assistant State Attorney calls herself "No Bond Nancy") often results in defendants being held in pre-trial detention. A common theme in these hearings, the report finds, was that judges attempt to clear their dockets as fast as they can, with little care for the dignity or rights of the accused.
"The assembly line nature of these bond hearings showed me that the prosecutors are not the only problem,” said Nia Reese, who is also a 2L law student and one of the report’s authors. “Everyone in the courtroom is playing their role to make the assembly work."
The PG County Jail houses close to 800 people, most of them held pre-trial. Especially during the pandemic, students in the clinic say it is crucial that all parties - judges, prosecutors, the jail, and defense counsel - do everything in their power to reduce the jail population and seek non-carceral solutions to the challenges of crime, poverty, and mental illness.
"We hope that this report will remind judges, prosecutors, the jail, defense counsel of their responsibilities and the ways they have fallen short, said Tasnim Motala, supervising attorney and fellow at the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center. “We also hope that advocates, litigators, and even the local government can use this report to continue to push for change."
The Clinic's report showcases how Howard University School of Law students approach social justice lawyering.
"Students worked with grassroots organizations and activists to examine the scope of the problem and used their platform and expertise as student-attorneys to amplify the experiences of the directly impacted to push for change," Motala added.
The report was written by Movement Lawyering Clinic students Palmer and Reese, as well as Jasmine Bermudez, Daniela Charris, Astrid Diaz, Brittany Griffin, Brooke Radford, Khalil Rivers, Sharde Slaw, and Reginald Young-Drake, under the supervision of Motala and Justin Hansford, executive director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center.
About Howard University
Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 13 schools and colleges. Students pursue studies in more than 120 areas leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced one Schwarzman Scholar, three Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 11 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African-American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, visit www.howard.edu.
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