Rules of Criminal Procedure, Model Summary

The Uniform Law Commissioners first promulgated a Uniform Rules of Criminal Procedure in 1952. The current Rules, however, were promulgated in 1974 as the Uniform Rules of Criminal Procedure (1974) (URCP (1974». They were, and are, a comprehensive compilation of criminal procedure rules that govern criminal prosecutions from beginning to end in a way not contemplated or possible in 1952. The drafting project for the URCP (1974) was federally funded and drew together the best thinking on criminal procedures of that time. URCP (1974) used the then new American Bar Association's Standards for Criminal Justice extensively, as well as other sources.

In 1987, Amendments to URCP (1974) were promulgated, and it is these Amendments which are the subject of this summary. These are true Amendments to URCP (1974) and do not constitute a complete revision or recasting of criminal procedure rules as URCP (1974) was over its 1952 ancestor. URCP (1974) remains intact with respect to fundamental policies and organization. The 1987 Amendments are important, make no mistake, but are not so sweeping as to cause URCP (1974) to disappear into them.


Why Amendments in 1987? In 1976, the American Bar Associ­ation began to revise its Standards for Criminal Justice, a project that was completed in 1980. In 1984, the American Bar Association added the Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards to the basic Standards for Criminal Justice. These advances in the development of criminal procedures inevitably led the Uniform Law Commissioners to the 1987 Amendments to URCP (1974). The URCP (1974) has a chronological organization. It goes into effect as criminal justice agencies begin to investigate for occurrence of a crime, and controls through judgment and sentencing. Among its innovations are expanded availability of citations as an alternative to criminal arrest; pre-trial discovery and conferences; and pre-sentencing proceedings. The Amendments of 1987 are designed to improve upon the 1974 innovations. It is not possible in a short summary to do more than outline a few of the Amendments and to give some idea of their content.

An important issue in URCP (1974) is detention of those suspected of crime before there is sufficient cause to justify an arrest. In URCP (1974), detention is permitted to take nontestimonial evidence or to conduct a lawful search. But the Criminal Justice Standards provide that "there must in fact be an arrest in order to justify a search incident to it." Hence, these grounds for detention are eliminated in the 1987 Amend­ments. Under the 1987 Amendments, detention is authorized to determine whether to issue a citation, to release a suspect, or to arrest him or her.

The standards for arrest without warrant after detention undergo some changes in the 1987 Amendments. A detained individual may be arrested if the detaining officer reasonably believes that the detainee has committed a felony, rather than "an offense punishable by incarceration," as URCP (1974) permits. The "felony" requirement serves to encourage cita­tions for misdemeanors, rather than arrest. Otherwise, these Standards become more explicit in the 1987 Amendments than is the case in URCP (1974).

A new provision in the 1987 Amendments prohibits arrest if the officer knows that the prosecuting attorney has issued a prior summons or citation. This rule prevents a police officer from overruling a judicial officer.

The issue of pre-trial release has received considerable attention in the 1987 Amendments. URCP (1974) provides alter­natives to monetary bail, and limits situations in which monetary bail is required. URCP (1974) requires that personal recognizance or an unsecured undertaking be the basis for pre-trial release unless these "methods of release will not reasonably assure the appearance of the defendant as required or the safety of any person or the community.

The 1987 Amendments closely define "release on personal recognizance" in terms of "a release…. without monetary conditions" with a description of the nonmonetary obligations to which the defendant may be subjected. Beyond this more precise definition, the 1987 Amendments provide for a "release investigation" to determine eligibility for release without bond, a list of factors to be considered when determining to release without bond, and an expanded list of conditions which may be imposed upon a defendant actually release without bond.


The 1987 Amendments require very specific findings for requiring a bond, "probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime charged," and "no other conditions of release will reasonably assure the defendant's appearance in court." This replaces URCP (1974) language: "If no condition or combination of conditions…will reasonably assure the defendant's appearance…."  

These provisions on pre-trial release indicate the speci­ficity of the 1987 Amendments over URCP (1974). The basic policies remain much the same, however. The 1987 Amendments include some absolutely new provisions that are the result of the Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards. These provisions specifically address issues of mental health during the commission of crime and as a matter of disposition during a criminal proceeding. The issue of what is or is not a defense is not addressed in the 1987 Amendments. (See the Model Insanity Defense and Post-Trial Disposition Act for the Uniform Law Commissioners' position on these issues.) The 1987 Amendments to URCP (1974) address only certain proce­dural problems.


For example, the 1987 Amendments provide that a defendant unable to pay for the services of a mental health professional may apply to the court for funds to obtain that assistance. The 1987 Amendments permit the prosecutor to move for an “mental health condition at the time of the crime charged.” Detailed procedures for making the examination are provided. These matters are not addressed in URCP (1974).  

A series of provisions in the 1987 Amendments govern competency to stand trial. If a defendant is not competent to stand trial, he or she cannot be tried Incompetence to stand trial relates to mental capacity to mount a defense. If the defendant cannot "consult with a reasonable degree of rational understanding with… lawyer," lacks "sufficient present ability otherwise to assist in the defense," or lacks "a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings," he or she is incompetent to stand trial. The 1987 Amendments provide for the defendant, the defendant's counsel, or the prosecuting attorney to move for a competency examination. The procedures for conducting the examination and for reporting its findings are spelled out. A hearing follows the report, and disposition alternatives include commitment for treatment. Commitments must be periodically reviewed at least every three months.


The provisions of the 1987 Amendments on mental health issues are wholly new and are the most far-reaching of the 1987 Amendments. Redefinition, clarification and greater specific­ity characterize the remainder of the 1987 Amendments. They bring URCP (1974) very much closer to the most recent Criminal Justice Standards of the American Bar Association. These Rules represent the latest and best thinking on criminal procedures.