Pretrial Justice and Criminal Case Management Reform

By Robert C. Kemp III

One of the greatest honors in my professional career was serving on the N.C. Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice. As a member of the commission, I was assigned to the Committee on Criminal Investigation and Adjudication. Two of the topics we focused on were pretrial justice and criminal case management.

Although various methods of pretrial release exist in North Carolina, a secured bond is the most common form of release for a person charged with a criminal offense. Few defendants can afford to post the bail amount in full. Some defendants utilize bail bondsmen, who charge a percentage of the total bond amount in exchange for obtaining the defendant’s pretrial release. Unfortunately, many defendants cannot afford either option and are forced to remain in jail. Most such defendants are also unable to retain counsel and are instead represented by court-appointed counsel, such as a public defender.

After hearing from various experts in this field, the commission contracted with Pretrial Justice Institute, who prepared report that is located on the NCCALJ website. I urge you all to review it.  Essentially, the committee recommended that a pilot project be implemented that uses legal and evidence based practices. Such practices would utilize both a pretrial risk assessment tool as well as a decision matrix in assisting judicial officials with their pretrial release decisions. The only such procedure currently used is in Mecklenburg County, but even their model needs retooling. Lastly, the committee is not advocating for the abolishment of monetary conditions, but instead having bail be a tool, but not the primary tool.

The commission also reviewed the management of criminal cases in North Carolina. Case delay is a problem in North Carolina. The inefficient administration of justice is detrimental to the public’s trust of our system. After studying the problem, the commission recommended improvement in criminal case tracking as well as the formation of a Criminal Case Improvement Management Team. This team would engage in a two-year improvement project, which would then be presented to the Chief Justice. Examples of topics to be studied are as follows: collection of best practices within and outside the state; development of case flow tools; identify the necessary technology; and the development of time standards and performance. Of the four topics tackled by the committee, case management reform could potentially have the greatest impact on the administration of justice in North Carolina. If you would like to discuss any of the work of the commission, please do not hesitate to contact me at