Use of Summons v. Arrest in North Carolina Misdemeanor Cases: A County-Level Analysis

Under state law, pretrial conditions must be set after a defendant is arrested for a crime, and this typically occurs at the initial appearance before a magistrate. G.S. 15A-511. Although state statutes express a preference for non-financial conditions (written promise to appear, custody release, and unsecured bond), G.S. 15A-534(b), secured bonds are the most commonly imposed pretrial condition in North Carolina. See Jessica Smith, How Big a Role Does Money Play in North Carolina’s Bail System (July 2019). Much has been written about the problems of using money to detain pretrial, including the unfairness of incarcerating people not because they are risky but because they are poor. Thus, in discussions about procedural reform, there is interest in making sure that law enforcement and court officials only execute or order arrests in cases where arrest is in fact required. If, in low-level cases for example, the officer opts for a citation instead of a warrantless arrest or the magistrate opts for a summons instead of an arrest warrant, the defendant simply is directed to appear in court to answer the charges. Since the defendant is not taken into custody, there is no initial appearance or setting of conditions, which again, skew towards secured bonds and create the potential for wealth-based detentions and other negative consequences. This explains why stakeholders are looking at citation and summons in lieu of arrest policies, either as stand-alone reforms or as part of broader bail reform efforts. As stakeholders explore these matters, they are asking questions about the prevalence of citation and summons use in their communities. In a paper here, we present data regarding citation usage in North Carolina. In this paper, we focus on usage of the criminal summons.

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