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. Continue reading
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Professor Jessica Smith and graduate research assistant Ross Hatton.
Charged with identifying best practices and offering recommendations on how policing practices can promote effective crime reduction while building public trust, the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended that law enforcement agencies develop and adopt policies and strategies that reinforce the importance of community engagement in managing public safety. Specifically, it recommended that agencies adopt preferences for “least harm” resolutions, including the use of citation in lieu of arrest for low-level offenses. Increased use of citations offers other potential benefits, including increased law enforcement efficiency. A report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that citations offer a time savings of just over an hour per incident. Additionally, increased use of citations 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 secured bonds are the most common condition imposed in North Carolina, see Jessica Smith, How Big a Role Does Money Play in North Carolina’s Bail System (July 2019), the decision to make an arrest versus issue a citation often results in imposition of a secured bond and associated wealth-based detentions. For these and other reasons, justice system stakeholders are interested in citation in lieu of arrest policies, particularly for low-level crimes. One common question that stakeholders have been asking is: What do we know about how often officers use citations or make arrests in North Carolina? Read on for answers. Continue reading →
Suppose I told you that we could categorize defendants into six categories for risk of failure to appear (FTA) in court as required, with 1 being the lowest risk category and 6 being the highest. What is your guess as to the percentage of defendants who appear in court as required at risk level 1? At risk level 6? When I ask this question of North Carolina stakeholders, most guess that the percentage of defendants who appear in court at risk level 1 is about 50% and that the percentage who appear at risk level 6 is about 20%. They are wrong. Risk assessment validation done in North Carolina shows that 87.4% of risk level 1 defendants appear in court as required and that 61.2% of risk level 6 defendants do so. In fact, that validation shows that at all risk levels, a majority of defendants appear in court as required. Continue reading →
I have discussed elsewhere criticisms and concerns asserted regarding money-based bail systems. Among other things, it is argued that money-based bail systems undermine public safety by allowing dangerous but wealthy people to buy their way out of jail with no supervision, and—citing recent empirical research—that unnecessary incarcerations of low-risk people who cannot pay their bonds causes more crime once those people are released. It also is asserted that unnecessary wealth-based detentions of low-risk individuals are unfair, disproportionately impact people of color and inefficiently use taxpayer resources. Finally, some point to successful legal challenges to money-based bail systems as creating litigation risk. In light of those criticisms and concerns, it is natural to wonder: How big a role does money play in our state’s bail system? The answer: A lot. Continue reading →
A new report evaluates the impact of Mecklenburg County’s bail reforms. Cindy Redcross et al., MDRC Center for Criminal Justice Research, Evaluation of Pretrial Justice System Reforms That Use the Public Safety Assessment: Effects in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina (2019) [hereinafter Evaluation]. The big take away? Mecklenburg released more defendants but did not see a significant increase in failures to appear (FTAs) or new criminal charges during the pretrial period. Id. at 2. Read on for details. Continue reading →
Failures to appear in court (FTAs) are expensive and inconvenient. There is wasted preparation and court time, along with cost and inconvenience for witnesses, jurors, defense lawyers, prosecutors and victims. The defendant may be subject to arrest and possibly pretrial incarceration. Additionally, when an order for arrest issues after a FTA, law enforcement officers are tasked with taking the defendant into custody. And the arrest requires additional court time, both for the required initial appearance before a magistrate and any subsequent bond review proceedings. Continue reading →
On March 15, 2019, the School of Government hosted North Carolina’s first Criminal Justice Summit. At the Summit, national and state experts with broad-ranging ideological perspectives discussed key issues capturing attention in North Carolina and around the nation. They explored how these issues impact justice, public safety and economic prosperity in North Carolina, and whether there is common ground to address them. A broad range of state leaders and stakeholders attended the program, which was presented with support from the Charles Koch Foundation. For those who couldn’t attend, here are some highlights. Continue reading →
In this post, part of a series on bail reform in North Carolina, I highlight reforms that have been implemented in Orange County, North Carolina. My goal in doing so is to provide models and points of contact for jurisdictions interested in these efforts. If you’d like your jurisdiction’s work highlighted here, please reach out to me. Continue reading →
In a post here, I noted that under state law, counties, cities, towns, and metropolitan sewerage districts have authority to create crimes through local ordinances. This is a somewhat controversial issue. As I’ve noted, one of the arguments made in the national conversation about overcriminalization is that too many minor activities are made criminal and that it’s not efficient, effective, or fair to address this activity through the criminal justice system. It’s further asserted that many low-level crimes—such as panhandling and sleeping in public places—criminalize poverty and homelessness when those issues should be treated as social needs. In fact, at a panel discussion on overcriminalization at my recent NC Criminal Justice Summit, national and state experts from across the ideological spectrum weighed in on this issue, agreeing that creating a crime is a legislative function and should be done by state lawmakers, not local governments. Those panelists included Vikrant Reddy, Senior Fellow, Charles Koch Institute; Nathan Pysno, Director of Economic Crime and Procedural Justice, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; Tarrah Callahan, Executive Director, Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform; and Mary Pollard, Executive Director, North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services and President, North Carolina Advocates for Justice. The 240 state leaders and stakeholders who attended the Summit echoed that sentiment. During live, anonymous polling during the session, attendees weighed in on three consensus reform proposals formulated by the panelists to address overcriminalization in North Carolina. One of those proposals was: Repeal code provision allowing local governments and administrative boards and bodies to create crimes. 75.72% of attendees supported that proposal, with 26.59% supporting it with caveats; 19.65% opposed it; and 4.62% were undecided.
In this post, part of a series on Bail Reform in North Carolina, I discuss preventative detention of defendants who are too dangerous or who present too great a flight risk to be released pretrial. At least twenty-two states, the District of Columbia and the federal system provide for pretrial preventative detention through constitutional or statutory provisions. Although neither the North Carolina constitution nor the General Statutes expressly provide a procedure for it, pretrial preventative detention occurs in North Carolina in two ways. First, the General Statutes allow defendants charged with capital murder to be held in jail without conditions. Second, due to concerns about public safety, flight, and obstruction of justice, other defendants are intentionally detained pretrial through the imposition of unattainably high bonds. The use of a secured bond for preventative detention is an imperfect solution for this simple reason: if a high risk defendant has sufficient resources, he or she can pay the bond or bail bondsman’s fee and walk out of jail with no supervision. But for many defendants, when a judicial official sets what is meant to be an unattainably high bond for the purpose of holding a defendant pretrial, that goal is achieved: the defendant remains in detention. Preventative detention—whether implemented through a statute or through the use of unattainably high detention bonds—must comply with the constitution. In a paper (posted here) I explore the constitutional parameters of preventative detention, provide guidance to policymakers and stakeholders on the core components of a constitutionally compliant preventative detention scheme, present several model preventative detention schemes, and discuss related issues. In this post, I offer a quick summary of the constitutional requirements for preventative detention. Continue reading →