Partnering with police to improve misdemeanor citation and release.
Population of the City of Richmond, CA: 103,710
In West Contra Costa County, the existing practice in the majority of misdemeanor cases is for the police department to issue a citation, instruct the individual to appear at an indicated court date, and release the individual without arrest. Court dates are set, on average, about six weeks in the future. As many as one third of the cited individuals in Contra Costa fail to appear (FTA) on their initial court date, which results in the issuance of an arrest warrant, incarceration, and the negative collateral effects of jail time.
A major driver of the high rate of FTA appears to be that defendants do not understand the instructions of the citation as to when to appear in court – especially because many county residents are monolingual Spanish speakers, and the citation forms are in English only. Court dates also can change without defendants’ knowledge. And in some instances, the district attorney has yet to file criminal charges by the initial court date, leading some individuals to show up and leave thinking there is no case.
Counsel from the Contra Costa County Office of the Public Defender (OPD) could help defendants better understand the court process. However, eligible defendants do not receive an offer of appointed counsel until they make their first court appearance, whether at that initial court date or following arrest for failing to appear.
OPD will partner with City of Richmond Police Department and the West County Re-entry Resource Center to provide clients holistic pretrial representation and improve their rate of appearance in court for misdemeanor cases. When someone is cited and released, police officers will provide them a printed information card, in English and in Spanish, referring them to counsel. OPD will offer free, bilingual counsel, based out of the West County Re-entry Resource Center. Being housed at the Re-entry Resource Center, counsel will work with Center staff to help clients build comprehensive plans to address civil and criminal legal needs, housing, employment, behavioral health services, and family support, which can be determinative of the case outcomes.
The Police Department, the court, and the District Attorney will also provide defenders with information about citations issued and case developments. Counsel will use this information to begin investigating cases sooner (preserving evidence, exploring alternatives to jail, securing transportation or childcare for clients to ensure court appearance) and to inform clients about when they need to be in court, including through automated appointment reminders issued by the Re-Entry Resource Center’s data management system.
Data Collection & Research
The Justice Management Institute (JMI) will serve as an active partner throughout the design, implementation, and evaluation of the project. JMI will work with all of the project’s criminal justice system partners to aggregate relevant data and create common, unique identifiers across information systems. In addition, JMI will integrate a new data tracking system for this project with the defenders’ current CMS. JMI and OPD will regularly present progress to the larger community of stakeholders. Their two-year research project will be completed in 2018.