Bail Reform in North Carolina—Pilot Project: Citation in Lieu of Arrest

In a series of posts I’ve been discussing bail reform, including highlighting pilot programs underway in North Carolina. In 2018, I worked with stakeholders in North Carolina’s Judicial District 30B (Haywood and Jackson counties) to help them identify and implement a basket of pretrial reforms. One of those reforms involves a new citation in lieu of arrest program. This reform includes implementation of a law enforcement-approved tool for patrol officers to encourage the increased use of citations in lieu of arrest for certain misdemeanors, in the officer’s discretion. The tool is a Cite or Arrest Pocket Card. Although the overall 30B project was a collaborative, multi-stakeholder endeavor, only the law enforcement community participated in the creation of the Pocket Card. The content of the card is reproduced below; in reality it’s a bright blue laminated card, the same size as the Miranda Warnings card.

What Are the Reasons behind the Reform?

Promoting the increased use of citation in lieu of arrest is recommended by law enforcement and other groups. See, e.g., Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing 43 (2015); ABA Standards for Criminal Justice: Pretrial Release, Standard 10-1.3 (3d ed. 2007). Use of citations is widely embraced as a law enforcement tool, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Citation in Lieu of Arrest: Examining Law Enforcement’s Use of Citation Across the United States (2016), and promoting the greater use of citations has been adopted as a criminal justice strategy elsewhere. See, e.g., Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (South Carolina), Annual Report 2017 (discussing increased use of “cite and release” practices in that jurisdiction). Greater use of citations offers potential benefits, including increased efficiency for law enforcement. One report found that citations require 24.2 minutes to process versus arrests, which require 85.8 minutes; citations thus offer a time savings of just over an hour per incident. International Association of Chiefs of Police, supra, at 3. Promoting the increased use of citations in lieu of arrests also can help reduce unnecessary pretrial detentions of low-risk defendants and associated costs, unfairness, and negative public safety outcomes. An arrest triggers an initial appearance and imposition of conditions of pretrial release. Because AOC-generated data show that secured bonds are the most common condition imposed in the District, the decision to make an arrest versus issue a citation often results in imposition of a secured bond and associated wealth-based detentions. Reduction in wealth-based detentions can produce local cost savings. National Conference of State Legislatures, Citation in Lieu of Arrest (Nov. 1, 2017) (“States may use citations to reduce jail populations and provide local cost savings. Citations divert lower risk offenders from detention, reserving limited space and resources for more dangerous offenders. By providing an alternative to pretrial detention and release processes for certain defendants, citation in lieu of arrest can be considered a component of state pretrial policies.”), For all of these reasons, stakeholders endorsed this reform.

Logistically, How Was It Implemented?

After District stakeholders identified this reform as a priority, I worked with local law enforcement leaders to create the Pocket Card. I had the card printed and local law enforcement agencies were asked to distribute it to officers and provide training on its use at Roll Call. To facilitate training, we prepared a two-page training guide.

What about Officer Discretion?

Nothing about the pilot interferes with officer discretion. The card itself prominently states that whether to cite or arrest is always in the officer’s discretion. This is reiterated in the training guide.

How Will the Pilot Be Evaluated?

The Judicial District 30B reform project includes an evaluation component. In partnership with Professor Jamie Vaske of Western Carolina University, evaluation of this and other reforms is underway. Professor Vaske will be looking at compliance and the impact of this change against a set of core justice system metrics. The evaluation period runs through the end of the calendar year, and Professor Vaske will produce a report to stakeholders after that date. I’ll post an update when we have information from that evaluation.

5 thoughts on “Bail Reform in North Carolina—Pilot Project: Citation in Lieu of Arrest”

  1. Therein lies I believe most of the problem. Everyone is making a fortune off of these folks and that is not fair at all. They pay the attorneys, then the courts then if they have a DWI they take classes and we have not had a raise in prices for our services in 20 years, therefore many of us really struggle to help those that need our services. After they have one DWI they end up in debt after everything is said and done and if they hire a court appointed attorney they end up going on probation cost another 40.00 plus fines to pay every month until everything is paid off. As long as people are getting to make money off of the poor it will continue. As the result of being an advocate for my clients, I have had to constantly go against so many folks that work in this system to help my clients. It is so horrible how these charges are ruining people lives all due to the inability to pay the huge cost of these charges.

  2. Non violent should be charged & given a court date. They may be on meds or have animals at home & no family at all. & no friends they can trust to go into home for you because thigs get stolen or animal may protect home & bite. So yes i think all non violent charged should be sent with a citation to appear & so they can make plans for animals etc if any jail time is looming in their future…


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