In January of 2019, officials in Clark County decided to implement the Initial Appearance Court program that would expedite the time from initial arrest to court hearing for “lower-risk” defendants who might have otherwise stayed in jail for days due to their inability to post bail. The program is widely considered as a success, and our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers believe the program will continue to help those who have been arrested.
Defendants Can Now See a Judge in Under 12 Hours Versus 3 Days
Since enforcing this new program, there has been a hopeful correlation – not only has the population and average length of stay in jail declined at places such as the Clark County Detention Center, but fewer of those people are even being charged with new crimes while their case pends.
With the new program in place, defendants who would have, in the past, waited for three days to initially see a judge about their case can now appear in front of a judge in under 12 hours. Proceedings are held two times per day, seven days a week – even on holidays. During these proceedings, defendants are having one-stop custody status reviews and probable cause hearings; before the Appearance Court program was implemented, these proceedings occurred separately and much less frequently.
Another change in the new program is the fact that proceedings are held seven days a week. It used to be the case that someone arrested after noon on a Friday had to wait until Monday to first see a judge. That is no longer the case. As well, the DA’s office also now screens cases earlier, denying them when necessary, and the public defender’s office meets with clients prior to a hearing – which occurs in under 24 hours after the arrest.
At that point, negotiations are possible between the prosecution and the defense, and a judge may review the case in open court to determine probable cause instead of doing so in their chambers (which adds another element of time delay.)
Las Vegas Justice of the Peace, Joe Bonaventure, presides over the program and thinks of it “very favorably.” He believes it’s a “more efficient system than we used to do.”
Program Is Helping Those Who Can’t Post Bail
Officials claim the most significant implication of this new program is that defendants without the ability to post bail may return home, and to work, more quickly. Release options could include written promises to return and electronic monitoring.
Public Defender Darin Imlay, whose legal employees represent the neediest defendants in Clark County, states, “I don’t want to be overdramatic, but you’re changing somebody’s life if all of a sudden they’re not losing their job, they’re not losing their apartment… the snowball effect is huge.”
Speeding up the process has not changed the criteria for who is released; risk assessments are still conducted to determine if individuals are a threat to public safety. Obviously, if they are deemed a threat, they are not released.
Officials Say Less Time in Jail Reduces Repeat Offenses And Saves the County Money
Clark County officials believe that when lower-risk defendants spend less time behind bars, this lowers the risk of recidivism, which explains the dip in the re-arrest rate, year after year. County records show that in 2018, 14% of defendants received a new charge BEFORE their existing case was even resolved. This is in comparison to 8.8% – which was the number in 2019 after the new program was launched.
The average length of stay in a Clark County jail fell from 20.1 days to 17.9 days from 2018 to 2019, and the average daily inmate population dropped by 74 inmates per day, despite a 10% increase in bookings. This increase is attributed to a booming population, and more police able to enforce the law.
Officials welcome the decline in the Las Vegas prison population. The cost of housing prisoners, including the staff involved, continues to soar. Bonaventure says, “The most expensive room in Las Vegas is not at the Bellagio… it’s at the Clark County Detention Center.”
Metropolitan Police Department, which administers the Clark County jail, received a $700,000 grant through the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to reduce overcrowding by 20% within two years. The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council had applied for this grant.
The New Program Has Been Beneficial to All Involved
Bonaventure calls this shift in the way courts and jails are conducted a “significant cultural change and a change in the processes.”
Yes, the program has created additional staffing needs for the DA and public defender’s offices, but the top Clark County prosecutors say it has been worth it (and, well, it’s more jobs!)
Prosecutor Wolfson says, “That’s saving days in jail by the hundreds,” which equates to “hundreds of thousands” of taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars.
It sounds like a win for all.