This executive summary of the evaluation of the Early Representation by Defense Counsel (ERDC) field tests conducted in three sites concludes that early representation by public defenders promotes system efficiency without compromising public safety or the quality of defense services provided to indigents.
The National Institute of Justice selected the public defender offices of Passaic County, N.J.; Shelby County, Tenn.; and Palm Beach County, Fla.; to implement the ERDC concept. The three offices were organized differently and operated with three diverse criminal justice systems. In the field tests, over 5,000 cases were randomly assigned to ERDC and control groups. The target municipalities of Passaic and Paterson, N.J., were alternated as test sites during 2-week periods. This assignment scheduling was termed 'timed randomization.' Two of the five trial divisions were selected for test implementation in Palm Beach. 'Automated randomization' was achieved by computerized divisional assignments. Case randomization was conducted in Shelby County using random selection based on booking number. The offices identified, screened, and represented ERDC clients prior to their first appearance before a magistrate and provided investigative and plea negotiation services much earlier in the adjudication process than did control staff. Improved public defender representation at the initial bail hearing obtained pretrial release much sooner than control clients. Interviews revealed that early representation improved the attorney-client relationship. ERDC resulted in the early resolution of a higher proportion of test cases than control cases and considerably reduced the average time from arrest to disposition. Additional resources committed to ERDC cases were more than compensated for by the savings realized. The summary highlights the test sites' characteristics, the evaluation methodology, major findings, replication possibilities, and policy implications.