Bail reform is a hot topic in North Carolina. It was recommended by Chief Justice Mark Martin’s North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice (report here) and jurisdictions across the state are embarking on reform. In this post I discuss some of the reasons why stakeholders are interested in the issue. In a companion post, I discuss reforms that they are implementing and evaluating.
Interest in bail reform is heating up in North Carolina. The Chief Justice’s North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice recommended implementing evidence-based pretrial justice reform, and reform already is happening in several counties. The North Carolina Courts Commission took up the issue at its September 2018 meeting and Attorney General Josh Stein recently announced a stakeholder Roundtable on the topic. Among the reasons for the interest is this: Litigation risk. Advocates of bail reform have racked up wins in other jurisdictions. In March, I wrote (here) about a recent Fifth Circuit decision holding that the bail system in Harris County Texas violated due process and equal protection. (That opinion was superseded after rehearing but the court’s holding remains essentially the same). In August, the Eleventh Circuit decided Walker v. City of Calhoun, GA, ___ F.3d ___, 2018 WL 4000252 (11th Cir. Aug. 22, 2018). Here’s what happened there:
Organizations around the country have called for bail reform. Here at home, a report by the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice recommended that North Carolina move forward with pretrial justice reform. A recent Fifth Circuit case holding that the bail system in Harris County, Texas violates due process and equal protection may create an impetus for jurisdictions to act: Litigation risk.
This question in the title of this post came up in a recent class. The specific context involved a domestic violence defendant who was in jail waiting for a judge to set conditions of release pursuant to the 48 hour rule established in G.S. 15A-534.1. But a similar issue arises whenever a magistrate sets conditions of release for a defendant who is unable to make bond and so remains in pretrial detention. An example of a common condition is that the defendant not contact the alleged victim.
“Arrest on first positive drug screen. $50,000 secured bond.”
“Hold without bond for any probation violation.”
May a judge sentencing a defendant to probation include instructions such as these in the judgment suspending sentence?
The decision, handed down April 28, 2017, comes out of Harris County, home to Houston, Texas. If you decide to read the opinion, ODonnell v. Harris County, be prepared to spend some time with it. The opinion is 193 pages long, and one reading may not be enough. Readers will see similarities and differences between the bail practices in Harris County and North Carolina. This post doesn’t undertake to compare the two and instead does a not-so-brief review of the findings, conclusions, and relief ordered by the judge, Chief District Court Judge Lee H. Rosenthal (if you’re wondering, appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1992). The bottom line is that the decision enjoins Harris County from “detaining indigent misdemeanor defendants who are otherwise eligible for release but are unable because of their poverty to pay a secured money bail.” Slip op. at 181.
In the 2015 legislative session, the General Assembly made two significant changes to the pretrial release statutes: (1) it effectively repealed a “bond doubling” provision for defendants rearrested while on pretrial release, and (2) it expanded the scope of the 48-hour rule for domestic violence cases to include dating couples.
[Author’s Note: This post has been substantively edited to make corrections in response to helpful comments from readers.]
A person generally may not lawfully be arrested unless there is probable cause to believe he has committed a crime. But there are several exceptions to this rule. Most involve arrests made pursuant to an order for arrest issued by a judicial official. A judicial official may, for example, issue an order for the arrest of a defendant who fails to appear in court or who violates conditions of probation. See G.S. 15A-305(b). And there is one circumstance in which a law enforcement officer may, without a judicial order or warrant for the defendant’s arrest and without probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, arrest a defendant. That’s when the officer has probable cause to believe the defendant has violated a condition of pretrial release. G.S. 15A-401(b)(1),(b)(2)(f.).
Last session, the General Assembly added a new subsection to the principal pretrial release statute, G.S. 15A-534. The new provision took effect on December 1, 2013, and has proven to be extremely frustrating to magistrates. It also raises some legal issues. The provision states: When conditions of pretrial release are being determined for a defendant … Read more
Magistrates walk a tight rope of sorts in setting conditions of pretrial release for defendants charged with impaired driving offenses. In addition to taking into account all of the factors they must consider when setting conditions of pretrial release in any criminal case and setting conditions accordingly, see G.S. 15A-534, magistrates who set conditions of … Read more