Initial Appearance Campaign
Most Americans believe that, after an arrest, they will quickly appear before a judge, learn about the charges against them, and have an attorney assigned to defend them. Unfortunately, this is not always true. Instead, an arrested person can wait in jail for days, weeks, or even months before seeing a judge or meeting an attorney. This project chronicles the resulting initial appearance crisis and highlights its devastating consequences. More importantly, it provides policymakers and advocates with actionable recommendations.
Mapping Initial Appearance Grades
The Constitution promises that every arrested person will have prompt access to the courts and an attorney. Yet, jurisdictions across the nation allow presumptively innocent people to languish in jail, alone and undefended. These injustices must not stand. Stakeholders across the criminal legal system have the power to transform the post-arrest period. Lawyers, lawmakers, judges, and advocates must take a stand for our Constitution’s principles and end the initial appearance crisis.
Explore Our Recommendations
A person should have their initial appearance as soon as possible after an arrest, but never more than 24 hours later. A prompt initial appearance informs a defendant about their rights, triggers the right to counsel, and minimizes unfair and unnecessary pretrial detention.
A defendant should have a lawyer’s help before and during their initial appearance. The lawyer should meet with the defendant, learn about their circumstances, and use that information to argue for release. The lawyer should also warn the defendant against making any statements.
If the initial appearance lawyer is assigned for that day only, an attorney should also be assigned to handle the defense. Within 72 hours, that attorney should meet with the defendant and begin to investigate the facts, file motions, negotiate a plea bargain, or prepare for trial.
An arrested person should automatically be released from jail if the jurisdiction fails to provide a timely initial appearance.
If a person is detained after initial appearance, they should have an automatic hearing, held within 72 hours, at which a defense attorney can revisit the bail conditions.
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Prof. Pamela Metzger
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