This text evaluates the Early Representation by Defense Counsel (ERDC) field test, which was a national policy experiment designed to test the efficacy of early representation by the public defender for indigent, noncapital felony defendants.
The public defender offices of Passaic County, N.J.; Shelby County, Tenn.; and Palm Beach County, Fl.; implemented the ERDC concept for 1 year (1981). The ERDC field test at each site was controlled by an experimental design which provided two comparable groups of defendants, represented by two comparable staffs. Over 5,000 cases were randomly assigned to test and control groups during the test. Test staffs provided a range of services to their defendants much earlier in the adjudication process than did the control staffs who operated 'normally.' Improved public defender representation at the initial bail hearing resulted in earlier pretrial release for test defendants than for control clients. Interviews with attorneys, clients, and members of the criminal justice community at each site revealed that early representation improved the client-attorney relationship. Test results demonstrate that early investigation, early plea negotiation, and increased public defender involvement in cases at the lower or municipal court level resulted in the earlier resolution of a high proportion on test cases than control cases and considerably reduced the average time from arrest to disposition for all test cases. The early representation concept is concluded to promote system efficiency without compromising public safety or the quality of defense services available to indigent defendants. Included are 55 references and approximately 50 tables.