Updated Model Local Bail Policy

The North Carolina General Statutes require the senior resident superior court judge to, in consultation with the chief district court judge or judges, issue a local bail policy. G.S. 15A-535(a). But doing so is no easy matter given the many statutory rules and exceptions and areas for discretionary policy choices. Christopher Tyner and I have tried to facilitate that task, with a North Carolina Model Local Bail Policy. We first issued the Model Policy in the Spring and we just posted an updated version, incorporating the latest legislative changes to the state’s bail statutes. The Model Policy can be found here; it’s the first item under “Implement.” Read on for details.

The Model is designed to serve as a template for judicial officials when revising local bail policies. It contains all of the statutory rules and exceptions and sets out areas for discretionary policy choices, detailing options in explanatory notes and providing alternative language to accommodate a range of policy decisions. Warning: It’s long. But that’s because it includes a host of appendices offering variations of tools, colloquies and other materials that can be used or discarded as appropriate depending on local policy choices. Explanatory notes and optional and alternative language add to the length of the Model. But since we’ve offered the document in Word format, you can delete extraneous material as you work through the Model.

We’ve already worked with one jurisdiction to update its local bail policy using the Model as a “go by.” Based on that experience, here are a few navigation notes that might be helpful if you’re interested to do the same:

  • Sections I & II contain introductory provisions. They include a number of discretionary issues but you’ll likely move quickly through them.
  • Section III is the core of the policy—this is where you’ll decide things like: whether you want to adopt new tools to help magistrates and/or judges navigate bail decisions; how judicial officials should handle ability to pay determinations; and whether to require written findings of certain bail decisions. Because of that, this section likely will take the most time to tailor to local needs, resources, and policy choices. If you’re working with others on the revisions, plan to devote an entire meeting to this section.
  • Sections IV though VII contain all of the special statutory exceptions. There are some choices to be made in these sections but they’re largely a catalogue of the legal rules. These sections are long but in terms of time, should go quickly.
  • Section VIII provides options for judicial review of bail conditions. Some jurisdictions opt to address these issues in the local bail policy; others do so by separate administrative order. Either way, this section provides the legal guardrails for you but, as with all sections, leaves the choices to local policymakers. Also, we updated this section with the new statutory rules regarding first appearances.
  • Section IX deals with promoting court appearances and responding to nonappearances. There are number of optional provisions here. Hopefully we’ll have more tools to add to this section once we wrap up the NC Court Appearance Project.
  • Sections X through XIX contain a collection of statutory and discretionary issues, but you’ll likely move very quickly through this material.

The Model Policy benefited from feedback provided by District and Superior Court Judges, Elected District Attorneys, Public Defenders and others. Additional feedback was provided by North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (NC AOC) legal counsel on logistical and legal issues (NC AOC did not weigh in on local policy options or best practices). But if you have suggestions for improvement, please reach out. We’d love to hear from you.