How to Solve the Initial Appearance Crisis
Malia N. Brink, Pamela R. Metzger, and Jiacheng Yu
Across the United States, people are arrested and held behind bars for days, weeks, and sometimes even months, without ever seeing a judge or attorney. These delays violate the United States Constitution’s promise that an arrested person—who is innocent unless proven guilty—will have prompt access to the courts, the assistance of counsel, and a fair and speedy trial.
These due process milestones begin at initial appearance: the first time an arrested person sees a judge about their case. At an initial appearance, the judge should inform an arrested person of the charges against them. The judge should also make an informed decision about whether, and under what conditions, to release a person from jail pending trial. The judge should hold this initial appearance promptly after arrest, and an attorney should advocate for the arrested person. Too often, none of these things happen.
This policy brief outlines five best legal practices for jurisdictions to honor the United States Constitution and protect the rights of all arrested people. In addition to detailing each best practice, the publication outlines strategies for success that jurisdictions can use when implementing these vital policies.
Getting Gideon Right
Andrew L.B. Davies, Blane Skiles, Pamela R. Metzger, Janelle Gursoy, and Alex Romo
In Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the government must provide a criminal defense lawyer for any accused person who cannot afford one. But for too many people, Gideon's promise remains unfulfilled. In Texas, there are no statewide guidelines about who is entitled to a court-appointed lawyer. Instead, counties create their own rules that create serious gaps in constitutional protection. Getting Gideon Right investigates the financial standards that determine an accused person's eligibility for appointed counsel in Texas county courts. The report reveals a patchwork of county court policies that are both complex and severe.
Grading Injustice: Initial Appearance Report Cards
Malia N. Brink, Jiacheng Yu, and Pamela R. Metzger
Arrested people across the United States often wait in jail for days, weeks, or even months before seeing a judge or meeting an attorney. In November 2021, the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center published Ending Injustice: Solving the Initial Appearance Crisis, a comprehensive report about this ongoing crisis in pre-trial due process. That report described the devastating consequences of delayed and uncounseled initial appearances.
Now, these Initial Appearance Report Cards offer a closer look at the laws governing post-arrest procedures in each U.S. state, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. While the Deason Center’s previous report provided an overview of the initial appearance crisis nationwide, the Initial Appearance Report Cards are a rigorous assessment of the laws in almost every jurisdiction in the country. These report cards reveal enormous gaps in the legal protections accorded to people accused of crimes, illuminating both the scope of the initial appearance crisis and our urgent need to solve it.
Greening Criminal Legal Deserts in Rural Texas
Pamela R. Metzger, Claire Buetow, Kristin Meeks, Blane Skiles, and Jiacheng Yu
Texas’ rural communities urgently need more prosecutors and public defense providers. On average, Texas’ most urban areas have 28 lawyers for every 100 criminal cases, but rural areas only have five. Many rural prosecutor’s offices cannot recruit and retain enough staff. The Constitution’s promise of equal justice for all remains unfulfilled. Rural Texans charged with misdemeanors are four times less likely to have a lawyer than urban defendants. In 2021, only 403 rural Texas lawyers accepted an appointment to represent an adult criminal defendant. In 65 rural counties, no lawyer accepted an appointment. And the problem is getting worse. Since 2015, Texas has lost one-quarter of its rural defense lawyers. Many of them retired and have not been replaced.
This policy brief outlines three solutions to recruit more criminal lawyers to serve rural Texans: Educational pipelines, financial incentives, and rural public defender offices. Rural Texans deserve the same constitutional protections as their urban and suburban counterparts. With strong recruitment strategies, targeted incentive programs, and new rural defender offices, Texas can green its criminal law deserts.
Pamela R. Metzger, Victoria Smiegocki, and Kristin Meeks
Budding Change explores what happened when Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot (DA Creuzot) radically changed his office’s policies about the prosecution of first-time misdemeanor marijuana cases. The report concludes that DA Creuzot’s 2019 policies were associated with significant reductions in police enforcement of marijuana misdemeanor laws. As a result, marijuana screening caseloads within the District Attorney’s Office declined substantially. Budding Change shows that prosecutorial policies can have a profound impact on policing behaviors.
Ending Injustice: Solving the Initial Appearance Crisis
Pamela R. Metzger, Janet C. Hoeffel, Kristin Meeks, and Sandra Sidi
Most Americans expect that if they are arrested, they will quickly appear before a judge, learn about the charges, and have an attorney assigned to defend them. The reality is vastly different. After arrest, a person can wait in jail for days, weeks, or even months before seeing a judge or meeting an attorney. This report chronicles the resulting initial appearance crisis and highlights its devastating consequences. More importantly, it provides policymakers and advocates with actionable recommendations.
Fewer, Not Fairer
Victoria Smiegocki, Pamela R. Metzger, and Andrew L.B. Davies
In 2019, police across Dallas County asked the District Attorney to prosecute fewer marijuana cases than the year before. This report examines whether the racial disparity in those cases improved at the same time. Fewer, Not Fairer shows that while the number of referrals declined, police were still more likely to refer a Black person for marijuana prosecution than a non-Black person. However, some cities achieved more fairness when their police departments almost entirely stopped requesting marijuana prosecutions altogether.
Series Preview: Screening and Charging Practices of Three Mid-Sized Jurisdictions
Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center
Understanding how prosecutors make their screening and charging decisions is essential to criminal legal reform. This preview report is the first in a series of publications that explores the screening and charging practices of prosecutors in three mid-sized jurisdictions. Through an innovative mixed-methods empirical study, the series provides a holistic account of prosecutors’ charging practices.
The ABCs of Racial Disparity
Pamela R. Metzger, Kristin Meeks, Victoria Smiegocki, and Kenitra Brown
Data show that Black and White people use marijuana at roughly equal rates. Yet in 2018, in six of Dallas County's biggest cities, Black people were vastly overrepresented in the enforcement of low-level drug crimes. With a look at enforcement trends before the election of District Attorney John Creuzot, this study launches a series of reports about how his reforms have impacted Dallas County.
The Rural Texas Sheriff
Andrew L.B. Davies, Valeria Liu, and Elisa Torossian
The Rural Texas Sheriff reports on a focus group conducted in conjunction with the Deason Center's 2019 Rural Criminal Justice Summit. The report places rural Texas sheriffs and their agencies in a national context. It also offers insight into the focus group's perceptions of rural law enforcement and jail management. With first-hand accounts of these sheriffs’ experiences, the report offers a compelling look at the personal and professional lives of Texas’ rural sheriffs.
Greening the Desert
Pamela R. Metzger, Kristin Meeks, and Jessica Pishko
Greening the Desert brings a criminal justice lens to the phenomenon of legal deserts in small, tribal, and rural (STAR) communities—vast areas with few, if any, practicing attorneys. The report explores STAR criminal justice communities and describes strategies and initiatives to green these criminal law deserts. Using case studies, the report offers concrete examples of successful innovations. It also includes cautionary notes about risks that may arise with the implementation of strategies to recruit, train, and retain STAR practitioners.
The Deason Center brings a Stats and Stories approach to criminal legal reform. The Stats: We collect, analyze, and assess the hard data that drive smart, sane, and sensible criminal justice reform. The Stories: We uncover, recount, and amplify the stories of people who live, work, and struggle in our criminal justice system. Together, our Stats and Stories make a compelling case for change.
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