Defendants who are awaiting their trial will sometimes have to do so in jail. This is partially due to the bail system. Because of this system, these defendants are ordered to pay a certain amount of money to be released pending the outcome of the case.
In theory, this is done to ensure the person will show up to future court dates. In reality, it can prevent poor defendants from ever being released. This might soon be changing in North Carolina for some low-level felonies and misdemeanors. The North Carolina Courts Commission is looking into an overhaul of the bail system.
The pilot program has shown promise in Jackson and Haywood counties. It encourages law enforcement officers to issue citations instead of arresting someone when it is appropriate to do so. If the person is arrested, the magistrate reviews a flowchart that defaults to using an unsecured bond unless the situation isn’t conducive to that solution.
People who are charged with violent crimes wouldn’t be able to count on the overhaul to help them. Police officers could still arrest and detain people who have a history of failing to appear in court, as well as those who are a danger to others or themselves.
The goal of the overhaul is to stop people from sitting behind bars for minor offenses. While people facing felony charges are guaranteed to be able to see the judge within 96 hours of their arrest, this isn’t the case for misdemeanors. Sometimes, people are incarcerated in local jails for longer than what they’d be sentenced to serve upon a conviction – all because they aren’t able to afford to pay a cash bail.