Providing defendants with legal counsel during the initial bail hearing reduces the use of bail and pretrial detention, without increasing the likelihood that defendants will not appear at the subsequent preliminary hearing, according to a new RAND study.
The researchers found that the presence of legal counsel at bail hearings increased the likelihood of being released without monetary bail by 21% and decreased the likelihood of an individual being in jail three days after the bail hearing by 10%.
The analysis, which is based on a field experience in Pittsburgh where public defenders were assigned a limited number of initial bail hearings, is one of the few high-quality studies of what happens when defendants are served legally at a preliminary bail hearing. The results have been published in the journal Science advances.
“These findings clearly show that public defenders have a significant influence over defendants who receive a positive outcome at the initial bail hearing,” said Shamina Anwar, one of the study’s authors and an economist at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization.
In the United States, during the first court appearance after an arrest, the judge makes a decision on the conditions needed to release the accused from prison until the case is decided. Most jurisdictions operate a cash bail system where the judge determines the amount a person must pay to be released from detention.
Recent studies have provided strong evidence that pretrial detention leads to worse outcomes for both the defendant and society as a whole, with longer prison terms and higher chances of conviction in the short term, and worse outcomes for recidivism and employment in the long term.
Prior to this study, an open question was whether the provision of a lawyer at the bail hearing would have an impact on the outcome of the accused. While defendants have the right to an attorney at all critical stages of a criminal prosecution, bail hearings are not considered a crucial stage in many jurisdictions, in part because they are short and non-evidence hearings (often lasting less than five minutes). . It is often conducted in an assembly line manner without much input from the defendant or the prosecution.
The RAND study analyzes results from a unique year-long initiative in Pittsburgh Municipal Court in which public defenders were available to represent newly arrested persons at some initial bail hearings. The jurisdiction only had enough resources to provide public defenders for half of the shifts that did not already have public defenders.
The RAND team created a public defense attorney work schedule so that shifts in which the attorney general was working had defendants and judges who were, on average, nearly identical to those in which the attorney general was not. This means that the study was more akin to a randomized trial, allowing the researchers to accurately measure the impact of providing a public defender at the defendant’s initial bail hearing.
The study was in the field from April 2019 to March 2020.
The researchers found that while those without legal representation received some kind of non-monetary release 49% of the time, those with public attorneys received a non-monetary release 59% of the time — a significant increase.
This decrease in the use of bail, in turn, led to a decrease in the percentage of individuals who were in jail immediately after the bail hearing. Notably, while 45.4% of those without a public defender were in jail after the bail hearing, this percentage was 40.8% among those with a public defender.
However, the intervention led to a short-term increase in re-arrests on theft charges among those with public defenders. Based on previous survey work that asked people how they perceived the costs of incarceration and theft, RAND researchers suggest that an incident of theft would have to be at least 8.5 times the cost of a day of detention for most jurisdictions to find this trade-off undesirable.
“This study is particularly relevant given that nearly half of the counties in the United States do not currently offer defensive representation at a bail hearing,” Anwar said. “These findings should be useful to jurisdictions considering offering defensive representation in bail hearings, although more research is needed in this area to understand the extent to which the findings we find here can be generalized to other jurisdictions with different procedures for bail hearings. .”
Shamina Anwar, Influence of Defense Counsel in Bail Hearings, Science advances (2023). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.ade3909. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.ade3909
the quote: Legal Advice in Preliminary Bail Hearings Lowers Incarceration Rates, Study Shows (2023, May 5) Retrieved May 5, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-legal-bail-lowers-incarceration.html
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