Evaluating the Impacts of Desk Appearance Ticket Reform in Rural and Suburban New York, 2018-2022

A desk appearance ticket (DAT) allows people to return for arraignment on their own instead of being held in pre-arraignment detention. New York’s 2020 criminal justice reforms required police officers across the State to issue desk appearance tickets (DATs) to most people facing misdemeanor or Class E felony charges, whereas police previously retained discretion in all such cases.

This report, authored by DCJ’s partners at The John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety, delves into the implementation and impact of DAT reform in New York’s perennially understudied Town and Village Justice Courts, examining trends in six upstate counties. The analysis spans arrests and DAT issuance rates from 2018 to 2022.

Key Findings:

Changes in Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT) Issuance:

  • Police officers did not issue DATs more often in cases bound for Justice Courts; misdemeanor DAT rates remained stable at 75%, contrary to the intended impact of reform. (DAT rates increased for Class E felonies, but this change predated 2020, suggesting a lack of connection to reform per se.)
  • Results varied across Justice Courts in different counties, with misdemeanor DAT rates increasing modestly in three counties, decreasing in one county, and remaining stable in the other two counties.

Overlapping Policy Changes:

  • DAT reforms were instituted around the same time as right-to-counsel reforms in Justice Courts across the State. These latter reforms involved the establishment of centralized arraignment parts staffed by defense attorneys (i.e., a single court capable of handling arraignments and assuring right to counsel in Justice Court cases across the county); but unlike the desk appearance ticket process, centralized arraignment parts necessitate at least several hours of pre-arraignment detention, meaning these two reforms’ goals are potentially at cross-purposes, creating difficult policy and values tradeoffs.

Summary and Future Research: The report suggests that while DAT reform had anticipated impacts in some counties, overall misdemeanor DAT rates did not uniformly change. Further research is warranted to explore trends beyond initial implementation, assess the impact of centralized arraignment on detention, and study local adaptations to optimize reform effects.