Updated at 3:36 p.m.
A committee of prosecutors, defense lawyers and law enforcement officials are calling on the District of Columbia Council to reform laws surrounding post-arrest procedures, identifying "confusion" among the public and within the criminal justice system.
A report published by the Council for Court Excellence recommended legislative changes that would clarify eligibility for certain-post arrest options and urged law enforcement agencies to create "plain English" descriptions of those options for arrestees.
"It puts the public on notice in a little clearer way: for these offenses, here are the potential options," said Cliff Keenan, director of the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia and chair of the group that put together the report.
According to the report, of approximately 42,500 arrests logged by the Metropolitan Police Department in 2012, 61 percent of arrestees were taken into custody before appearing in court, usually the following day. Thirty percent were released through "citation release," meaning they promised to appear in court at a later date.
Four percent of arrested individuals used the "post-and-forfeit" process, in which they posted collateral and then forfeited it in exchange for not having a formal criminal case filed against them. The police department has been accused of using the process to cover up retaliatory arrests; a Washington federal judge recently found the process was constitutional because it was voluntary.
The legislation proposed in the report would spell out eligibility for citation release and post-and-forfeit. "It tightens up a lot of things that have just been done through custom or practice," Keenan said. It would create a new position, a "releasing official," to authorize citation release, and would allow law enforcement to place certain conditions on that release.
The report also highlighted several topics for future consideration, such as decriminalizing certain low-level criminal offenses – an issue the American Bar Association is involved with – and ensuring law enforcement agencies are correctly using the post-and-forfeit procedure.
In a statement today, Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, said the report addressed a "critical area" of the city's criminal justice system.
"Focused on assuring safety in the community, as well as reasonable and fair post-arrest release options, I look forward to the next steps in considering possible legislative reforms," he said.
Kelly O'Meara, executive director of strategic change for the police department and a member of the committee that produced the report, said the report included "commonsense recommendations." She said the department had tried to create "plain English" instructions for arrestees in the past, but that it would be easier once the laws surrounding post-arrest options were clearer.