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Updated Model Local Bail Policy

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The North Carolina General Statutes require the senior resident superior court judge to issue a local bail policy, in consultation with the chief district court judge or judges. G.S. 15A-535(a). At the Criminal Justice Innovation Lab, we’ve had a lot of requests for help updating these policies. And we understand why. Doing this work is no easy matter, given that North Carolina law includes a ton of statutory rules and exceptions and areas for discretionary policy choices. Back in the Spring of 2021, we issued the first version of the Model Policy. Recently we posted the latest version. It’s online here, as the first item under “Implement.”

What’s new with this version? This version incorporates some small statutory changes and a bunch of new sample tools. We also made a formatting change, splitting out the Appendix, which contains sample tools, colloquies and related material, into a separate document that you can link to from the Model Policy. More on that in a minute.

The Model Policy is designed to be a template for revising local bail policies. It includes all of the statutory rules and exceptions and sets out areas for discretionary policy choices, detailing options in explanatory notes and providing alternative language to accommodate a range of policy decisions. When it comes to those discretionary policy decisions we are – as always – policy neutral. That means that we’ve set out alternatives and it’s up to you to choose which one works best for your community.

Here’s an overview of the Model Policy’s sections:

  • Sections I & II contain introductory provisions. They include a number of  discretionary issues, but you’ll likely move quickly through them.
  • Section III is the core of the policy—this is where you’ll decide things like: whether you want to adopt new tools to help magistrates and/or judges navigate bail decisions; how judicial officials should handle ability to pay determinations; and whether to require written findings of certain bail decisions. Because of that, this section likely will take the most time to tailor to local needs, resources, and policy choices. If you’re working with others on the revisions, plan to devote a good bit of time to this section.
  • Sections IV though VII contain all of the special statutory exceptions. There are some choices to be made in these sections but they’re largely a catalogue of the legal rules. These sections are long but in terms of time, should go quickly in your revision process.
  • Section VIII provides options for judicial review of bail conditions. Some jurisdictions opt to address these issues in the local bail policy; others do so by separate administrative order. Either way, this section provides the legal guardrails for you but, as with all sections, leaves the choices to you.
  • Section IX links you to the Phase 1 report from the North Carolina Court Appearance Project. That report contains a bevy of discrete, actionable policy initiatives to promote court appearances and improve responses to missed court dates when they occur.
  • Sections X through XIX contain a collection of statutory and discretionary issues. If you’re using the Model Policy to revise local policy, you’ll likely move very quickly through this material.
  • As noted, the Appendix is now a stand-alone document that you can link to from the Model Policy. But if you want to skip ahead, it’s here. The big change in the Appendix is that we’ve included many more sample tools, processes, and forms for pretrial decision-making that have been developed by your colleagues across diverse jurisdictions, including urban, suburban and rural jurisdictions.

The original Model Policy benefited from feedback provided by District and Superior Court Judges, Elected District Attorneys, Public Defenders and others. If you have suggestions for improving the Model Policy, please reach out─we’d love to hear from you!

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