Skip to main content

Advancing the Case for Early Access to Counsel in Police Precincts

M681JM Unidentified man being arrested by police in Venice Beach, CA
The first study in California to provide legal counsel to youth prior to waiving their right to silence
  • Funder
    Arnold Ventures
  • Dates
    2021 - 2023


The field lacks information on the provision of legal counsel at early points in the justice process. 

Few jurisdictions across the U.S. provide free legal counsel to individuals upon arrest, and no rigorous research has been conducted to understand the challenges, benefits, and outcomes of providing legal counsel at this stage in the justice process.


The first study of implementing access to legal counsel at arrest. 

In partnership with Fair Trials, NORC conducted a study on the implementation of California Senate Bills 395 and 203 which require that youth under the age of 18 have the opportunity to consult with and be advised by an attorney before they decide whether to waive their right to silence. We also convened a learning community comprised of public defenders, researchers, and policymakers to facilitate the sharing of information, data, policies, and best practices around providing legal counsel upon arrest.


This study has been completed. 

Across the 13 counties participating in this study, all had indigent defense providers staff phone lines that law enforcement officers contact prior to questioning a youth. In most instances, attorneys provide representation via the phone due to resource constraints and the practicality of accessing the youth in person due to jurisdiction size, other work responsibilities, and timeliness. If an officer is unable to reach an attorney, they must wait for an attorney to call back and speak with the youth prior to interrogating the youth.

Perceived benefits of providing counsel prior to interrogation identified by respondents included:

  • Ensuring youth understand their rights and helping them make more informed decisions;
  • Building trust with youth and the community;
  • Perceived better outcomes for youth, especially at detention hearings; and
  • Allowing attorneys to gather information related to the alleged offense earlier to begin building a legal response.

There were no negative perceived impacts shared by respondents. Overall, the study highlights the perceived and potential benefits of providing counsel upon arrest and prior to interrogation as well as challenges and best practices associated with successful implementation.

Explore NORC Society & Culture Projects

Exploring the Cultural Lives of Californians

An expanded definition of “the arts” finds more artistic participation


James Irvine Foundation

2019 Census of Tribal Law Enforcement Agencies (CTLEA)

Gathering data to inform tribal law enforcement policies and resource allocation


Bureau of Justice Statistics