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Public Research Group Studies Effect of Assistance of Counsel at Bail Hearings

Researchers have made Potter County, Texas one of the first court systems in the United States to actively test the effect of the presence of defense counsel at bail hearings. The Public Policy Research Institute (PPRI) at Texas A&M University is conducting a year-long study at the Potter County Detention Center, testing whether defendants charged with nonviolent crimes who are represented by defense attorneys are more likely to be released while awaiting trial.

Potter County Criminal Court holds virtual arraignments via Zoom within 24 hours of an arrest. The study randomly selects inmates to be appointed defense attorneys before the arraignment. The lawyers interview defendants to discover mitigating factors that can support arguments for reducing or eliminating bail based on risk assessment.

Primary investigator George Naufal of the PPRI says that if the study is successful in showing the cause-and-effect relationship of defense counsel and defendants’ releases, it could permanently revolutionize how bail determinations are made.

The PPRI has previously researched the impact of using risk assessment tools to determine eligibility for pretrial release. Rather than tying an amount of cash bail to a particular offense, risk assessment considers factors that indicate the likelihood of a defendant reoffending if released while awaiting trial.

The PPRI’s prior research showed that three times more low-risk defendants are detained in a financial release system than in one that makes release decisions based on a defendant’s risk. By contrast, 10 times more defendants are released into the community when risk-based release is employed. The PPRI estimated that court and detention costs were 31 percent lower when risk assessment tools were used, since more low-risk defendants were released.

When the right to freedom depends on a defendant’s bank account and not the risk they pose, it’s much more likely that that potential reoffenders will be released. The PPRI found that the number of new crimes committed by defendants who posted bail was 22 percent higher than those on non-financial release.

Allowing release while awaiting trial also can have a substantial positive impact on the lives of the defendants. Those who are detained for long periods will often lose their jobs and the separation and financial issues caused by detention can be detrimental to families.

The legal team at the Law Offices of Kevin Collins in San Antonio provides effective representation in securing our clients’ pretrial release on bail or recognizance. Call 210-598-8629 or contact us online to receive immediate assistance from an experienced defense attorney.

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