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Early Intervention by Counsel: A Multi-Site Evaluation of the Presence of Counsel at Defendants' First Appearances in Court

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2020
65 pages

This is the Final Summary Report of the objectives, methodologies, and findings of an evaluation of six upstate New York counties' efforts to ensure that defendants were provided legal counsel at arraignment.


Over the past decade, some states have sought to ensure that defendants are provided counsel at their first appearance in court (CAFA). The rationale for this effort is that having an attorney present at the first court hearing, which is often arraignment, will result in judges releasing more low-risk defendants on recognizance or on lower bails. Early access to legal counsel might also result in better prospects for diversion from prosecution, charge reductions before conviction, and less punitive sentences. The CAFA initiatives in the upstate New York counties have been funded by state grants to indigent defense providers. The participating counties are jurisdictions with practical, administrative, political, and geographic challenges in implementing CAFA. The current evaluation focused on 1) the effectiveness of administrators in implementing CAFA programs; 2) whether the adoption of CAFA produced the predicted impacts on judges pretrial decisions and case outcomes; and 3) any effects CAFA had on features of the criminal process, the duration of cases to disposition, and aggregate impact on pretrial detention costs compared with the cost of providing attorneys to defendants. Interviews and courtroom observations indicated that the presence of attorneys was seldom linked to challenges to accusatory instruments or arguments for immediate dismissal; however, when attorneys stood by defendants, they channeled their statements, coaxed information about family members and community ties, deflected premature denials or apologies about the arrest incident, and often established a quick connection to screening for indigent defense eligibility, pretrial services, and the beginning of a paper trail for the attorney in the case. 5 tables, 11 figures, and 5 tables

Date Published: January 1, 2020