Meeting with a Lawyer Shortly after Arrest Improves Case Outcomes

Special to the Vanguard

Santa Clara County, CA – Individuals who received Pre-Arraignment Representation and Review (PARR) program services on average were detained fewer days and had a lower conviction rate rather than comparable individuals not served by the PARR, according to a report from the California Policy Lab.

In a new policy brief and National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper, researchers from the nonpartisan California Policy Lab (CPL) show “that clients who participated in a pilot of PARR in early 2020 had dramatically better outcomes than similarly situated people who did not have the opportunity to participate.”

“We launched PARR because we knew that people without money to pay bail or consult with a lawyer before their first court appearance were less likely to secure a pretrial release from jail,” explains Charles Hendrickson, Assistant Public Defender at the County of Santa Clara Public Defender’s Office. “We expected to see an impact but were surprised to see such big differences both in pretrial releases and case outcomes. We hope this program and these research results will spark larger conversations about the need to provide legal representation earlier during pretrial detention and the positive difference it makes in people’s lives.”

“These differences are striking, and they were all statistically significant,” adds Johanna Lacoe, a co-author of the policy brief and Research Director at the California Policy Lab. “The program had demonstrable, positive impacts for pilot participants. They had earlier releases, a much lower likelihood of being convicted, and a much higher likelihood of seeing their case dismissed by the District Attorney’s Office. We look forward to continuing our research to explore the mechanisms that make this program so effective.”

Arrested individuals who received PARR services were detained in jail (pre or post trial), on average, for 23 fewer days relative to comparable people who did not receive PARR services (6 days vs. 29 days). This reduction in days reflects both reductions in pretrial detention, as well as potential reductions in the probability and length of incarceration imposed at sentencing.

In addition, receiving PARR services reduced the probability that an individual was convicted by about 75% relative to comparable defendants whom PARR did not serve.

The report also found PARR participants were 132% more likely to see their cases dismissed by the prosecution than non-PARR participants.

According to the report, “Pretrial detention is time spent in jail after a person is arrested, but before their arraignment or trial.”

The report explains, “This detention can create legal, social, and economic costs, especially for people who can’t afford bail or to hire a lawyer to help secure an earlier release.”

In traditional settings, public defenders can provide legal representation, “but they generally do not meet with their clients until the day of their arraignment, at which point the client may have been detained for several days”

Moreover, “A public defender typically has only a few minutes to meet a client before appearing in front of a judge, and they are often representing many new clients at a single arraignment session.”

To provide a more equitable pretrial experience, “the County of Santa Clara Public Defender’s Office started a program to provide earlier legal representation to low-income people.”

Through the Pre-Arraignment Representation and Review (PARR) program, “individuals charged with an eligible felony or misdemeanor domestic violence charge meet with a public defender shortly after their arrest (typically within 48 hours), instead of waiting until their first arraignment.”

By meeting with clients earlier in the process, “PARR attorneys can advocate for their client’s release from jail, collect evidence in support of their case, and connect with family members, service providers, and community members to help meet the client’s needs.”

During the pilot, PARR was only offered on one (rotating) day per week, which allowed the researchers to compare outcomes for PARR participants to a control group of similarly situated individuals who did not participate.

The pilot ran from January 2020 through March 2020. Since then, the PARR team has grown and now serves about 30% of felony cases in the public defender’s office each year.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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