D.C. Police Reform Commission recommend access to legal counsel in police stations

Article by Fair Trials

In their recent report, Decentring police to improve public safety, the D.C. Police Reform Commission have endorsed Fair Trials proposals for arrested people to have access to legal counsel in police stations.

US citizens right to counsel is protected under the Constitution but in reality arrested people are almost never able to access counsel until, at the earliest, the first court hearing. Fair Trials is campaigning for Americans’ constitutional right to counsel to be fully implemented.

The Commission’s recommendations state:

“The Council should work with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and the MPD to institute legal counsel in police stations. Both youth and adults should be guaranteed legal counsel upon their arrest, prior to any questioning by the police. Public defenders or private counsel should be allowed access to police stations 24 hours a day to communicate with and otherwise represent their clients and to sit in on interviews between police and individuals suspected of a crime.”

The Commission acknowledge the impetus for change in this area with other states, including California, West Virginia and Illinois, implementing reforms that ensure young people have access to a lawyer following arrest. However, their proposals would extend this to include adults as well as youth.

The Commission’s report cites Fair Trials paper Station House Counsel, which outlines how involving defense lawyers earlier can not only provide oversight over arrest, custody and detention but can have a transformative effect on the entire criminal legal system in the US.

Listen to our Americas Legal Director Rebecca Shaeffer speak about access to counsel on the Decarceration Nation podcast.

Watch legal experts discuss how improving police precinct access to counsel can potentially transform criminal justice in the US and rebalance the relationship between citizens and police.