Police, Prosecutor, and Judges’ Roles

Police, Prosecutor, and Judges' Role

Police Practices

A police encounter is often the first way a person comes into contact with the criminal justice system. Whether it’s a simple traffic stop or an interaction while walking down the sidewalk, a non-consensual encounter with police raises ones’ likelihood of being issued a citation or arrested.

Depending on a particular police department’s policies, police officers might be dispatched in higher quantities to high-crime, low-income areas. Full Report.

Heavy policing of poorer, high-crime areas can lead to pretextual stops (where an officer stops a person for a minor infraction in hopes of uncovering greater criminal activity), racial profiling, and aggressive policing of quality-of-life infractions (such as panhandling, loitering, and disorderly conduct) and enforcement of minor drug laws. This can lead people living in these communities to become distrustful of police and the criminal justice system at large, because it specifically and relentlessly targets their communities.

When police do stop a person and make a citation or arrest, they generally write up a report. The police report oftentimes serves as the basis of subsequent charging decisions and is the only evidence of misconduct that prosecutors and judges have to look at during the bail determination. Given the confusion surrounding many instances of citation and arrest, what is written down in a police report might not be factually identical to what actually happened, or ends up coming to light during trial, yet it serves as the sole determination of how bail will be decided.

Prosecution’s Charging Decisions

Acting on the information provided in a police report, prosecutors decide whether a person violated one or more criminal statutes and whether and how to charge a person.

Prosecutors, in large part, have discretion to determine the nature and number of charges.The typical practice is to charge the highest possible offense that could possibly be proven by the facts as provided, and to also include lower level offenses that are also supported by the facts. This can lead to numerous criminal charges that all stem from a single minor infraction. Oftentimes when a person is brought before a judge or magistrate  for their initial appearance and bail determination, the judge only has the police report, charging documents, and a person’s criminal record before him or her. A judge must decide, based on these documents, whether to release the person, set a money bond, or hold the defendant without bond. The nature and number of charges are the key indicators of whether that person will be released on personal bond or detained on a high bond amount.

Judges

Of all the various actors in the criminal justice system, judges play the most important role in bail determinations. A judge has the ability to decide whether a person is released on a personal bond, detained on a high money bond, or is “no bonded” (a term describing a scenario where a judge decides not to release a person from pretrial incarceration under any set of conditions). Judges may reduce bond amounts at subsequent bond hearings if it’s determined that a bond is too high or judges may increase bond amounts at their discretion. During the pretrial bond determination is enormous and can affect the entire outcome of an individual’s case.

For instance, suppose a person is charged with a low level felony and given a $10,000 bond. If that person is unable to pay the bond outright, then he will need to seek the services of a bail bond company to post the bond on his behalf. This usually requires the payment of a $1,000, non-refundable fee to a commercial bond agent (10% fee). Now say that same person doesn’t have $1,000 to give a bond agent. In that case the person is going to sit in jail until his next court date, which could be scheduled anywhere from one to several weeks out depending on how busy a particular court is. In this instance, let’s just say our hypothetical defendant has to wait three weeks in jail for a court date (that’s 21 days). Suddenly it becomes extremely rational for that person to take a plea deal offered by the prosecution, just to have some sort of predictability about when he will be released. The most likely scenario is he will plead to a lower charge—maybe even a misdemeanor—and be given time served as his sentence on the offense. In this scenario it doesn’t matter that the person might not have committed the crime or that the prosecution’s evidence wouldn’t have supported a conviction. The person took a plea for one reason, and one reason only, he wanted to go home and it was his only way out.

Given the importance of bail determinations and how they can influence the ultimate resolution of the case, one might think that judges spend time scrutinizing each individual case before them, but that’s not necessarily accurate. Bail determinations are often made within seconds or several minutes, and usually there is no individualized determination of a person’s ability to pay the set money bond. This leads to a person remaining in jail until his or her case is resolved either by plea, trial, or dismissal. Statistics show that the vast majority of people (approximately 94% in felony cases) choose to take a plea deal.


DISCLAIMER – The information on this website is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Every case depends on the specific facts and circumstances involved. To submit a complaint for review, please go to our Legal Help page.

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