The past two decades have enhanced our understanding of pretrial risk. We now know that most individuals with pending criminal cases make scheduled court appearances and remain arrest-free as they await trial. When missed court dates occur, they often are not intentional abscondence but rather the result of unintentional or unavoidable circumstances. Further, most new cases filed against pretrial defendants involve misdemeanors and lower-level felony charges, not violent crimes.
However, while we recognize the infrequent and dynamic nature of pretrial misconduct, most justice systems define, and measure missed court appearances using the dated and overly broad “failure to appear” descriptor and view new case filings mostly as serious offenses affecting public safety. The result is an overestimation of defendant risk and overly punitive responses to misconduct.
This publication discusses the nature of pretrial risk, missed court dates, and new case filings. It also proposes more accurate and useful definitions for these events and presents strategies used nationwide to help prevent misconduct or to mitigate it when it occurs.