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Study looks at the effect of pretrial detention on criminal cases

Texas residents may be aware that the United States has a high level of incarceration. However, they may not know that more than 20 percent of those behind bars have not been found guilty of committing a crime. While some of these prisoners are incarcerated while they await trial because they pose a threat to the community at large or are considered a flight risk, the overwhelming majority of them are in prison or jail simply because they could not afford to post bail.

The impact that pretrial detention has on the results of criminal cases was studied recently by a team of researchers from Stanford, Harvard and Princeton universities. They found that individuals who are unable to afford bail are far more likely to be convicted at trial or enter into negotiated plea agreements than defendants who are granted pretrial release. According to the study, typical defendants subjected to pretrial incarceration earned about $7,000 during the year prior to their arrest. The researchers based their findings on a study of tax and administrative court data.

Poverty is at the root of many crimes, and the researchers discovered that only about 50 percent of criminal defendants are able to afford bail even when the amount required is $5,000. Furthermore, the study found that being granted pretrial release reduced the chances of conviction by 14 percent and made defendants 10.8 percent less likely to agree to plead guilty as part of a negotiated arrangement.

No matter the crime, every criminal defendant has the right to a vigorous defense. Attorneys may argue fiercely against pretrial detention when their clients face months behind bars just because they can't afford bail.

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