In January 2020, North Carolina’s Second Judicial District (Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell, and Washington Counties) implemented two consensus bail reform initiatives. First, they implemented a structured decision-making tool for magistrates to use when making bail decisions. Among other things, the tool:
- creates a presumption for conditions other than a secured bond for people charged with Class 3 misdemeanors;
- provides screening factors to quickly identify individuals charged with intermediate-level cases (defined by local policy to include Class A1 – 2 misdemeanors and Class F – I felonies) who can be released on a condition other than a secured bond;
- affords those charged with Class A – E felonies no special presumptions or screening; and
- embeds within the decision-making process the statutory requirement that conditions other than a secured bond must be imposed absent a risk of non-appearance, injury to any person, or interference with the criminal proceeding.
Second, stakeholders implemented new first appearances for individuals detained on misdemeanor charges to ensure timely judicial review of bail.
These reforms were developed by a stakeholder team including judges, prosecutors, public defenders, clerks, magistrates, and law enforcement leaders. One of the team’s goals was to reduce pretrial detentions of individuals who do not pose a pretrial risk but are detained due to inability to pay bail. The UNC School of Government Criminal Justice Innovation Lab supported stakeholders in the development and implementation of reforms and, with support from local stakeholders, conducted an empirical evaluation of their implemented reforms. We recently released a final report (here) on that evaluation. This post summarizes key findings. Continue reading →
In an earlier bulletin, I discussed the possibility that state habeas petitions could emerge as a remedy for medically vulnerable prisoners in North Carolina, as they have in other states (most notably New York). While it remains too early to tell how North Carolina courts will respond, there have been some important developments in recent weeks, as a number of prisoners have asked courts to consider their petitions. This post explores the status of two of those cases and related legal issues regarding the viability of state habeas as a remedy for prisoners uniquely endangered by COVID-19. Continue reading →
In late 2019, bail litigation came to North Carolina. I have written before about successful federal bail litigation in other jurisdictions, including a decision holding that the bail system in Harris County, Texas was unconstitutional. Similar litigation is now underway in our state, and appears to be headed towards a consent preliminary injunction. Continue reading →
In 2018, a national survey asked Americans what they thought of our pretrial justice systems. Their responses? Strong support for expanded pretrial release. The survey was done by a bipartisan team of pollsters on behalf of Pew Charitable Trusts. See The Pew Charitable Trusts, Americans Favor Expanded Pretrial Release, Limited Use of Jail (2018). Here are my top six take-aways from the survey, along with related survey data, explanatory text and graphs, which come directly from the Pew report (all attribution to Pew). Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
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 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.
Continue reading →