What is the Role of the Pretrial Services Officer In the Federal Criminal Justice System?

New Jersey Criminal Lawyers Schwartz Posnock

A Federal Criminal Law Article

By NJ Criminal Lawyer, David A. Schwartz

How Can My Relationship with My Pre-Trial
Supervisor Affect My Case?

U.S. Pretrial Officers provide the court with two services: investigation and supervision of individuals who have been charged with a federal offense.

U.S. Pretrial Services Officers are situated at a critical stage in the federal criminal justice process – the very start. These officers often are the first court representatives that you will meet in the process after your arrest or voluntary surrender. In general, the officers’ job is to investigate defendants charges with a federal crime, recommend in a report to the court whether to release or detain the defendants, and supervise the defendants who are released to the community while they await their day in court.

Pretrial Investigation

The officer conducts a pretrial investigation, gathering and verifying important information about you and your suitability for pretrial release. The investigation begins when the officer is first informed that a defendant has been arrested or is being surrendered. The arresting or case agent calls the pretrial services officer and, ideally, provides helpful information about the defendant and the circumstances surrounding the arrest.

As part of the investigation, the officer interviews the defendant to find out about the defendant’s activities, living situation, and employment or source of support. Before the interview, the officer completes a criminal history check and, if possible, speaks to the assistant U.S. attorney about the charges and the government’s position as to whether to release or detain the defendant. When our firm represents a client at this stage in the case, we act in a positive role to provide the Pretrial Services officer with positive information about your community ties, employment, property owned, and relevant health information. We do this cooperatively with Pretrial Services to we can obtain the best possible release recommendation for you when we appear at your initial appearance before the duty magistrate, who will make the decision on the terms and conditions of your release.

If you are arrested off of the street by a federal law enforcement agent, the Pretrial Services interview may take place in the U.S. Marshall’s holding cell, the arresting law enforcement agency’s office, the local jail, or in the Pretrial Services office in the federal courthouse. During the interview, the officer will talk to you to obtain the information that will be used to decide whether you will be released or detained. When we are involved in the arrest or surrender process, we will be present during this interview to make sure that all of the supportive information is provided, and that there are no misunderstandings on the part of the Pretrial Services officer that may negatively impact on their release recommendation.

You will be subject to a urine test for the presence of narcotics. The presence of narcotics can significantly change your release recommendation. It is critical that you come to the Pretrial Services interview with no trace of narcotics in your system, unless, of course, you have a valid prescription.

The Pretrial Services Officer must verify the information received from you. We will help in the verification process, as the Officer may not be able to verify all of the information before you appear in court for your initial appearance. The officer’s research may include contacting your family and associates to confirm background information, employers to verify employment, law enforcement agencies to obtain a criminal history, and financial institutions to obtain bank or credit card statements. What the officer learns from collateral sources – from other persons, from documents, and from on-line research – may confirm what you say in he interview or may contradict it, or provide something more. It is important to be completely honest in the Pretrial interview.

Report Preparation

Based on the investigation findings, the Pretrial Services Officer prepares a report that helps the duty magistrate make an informed release or detention decision. The report addresses two basic questions: 1) Is the defendant likely to stay out of trouble and come back to court? 2) If not, what conditions should the court impose to increase the likelihood?

The Pretrial Services officer considers both danger and nonappearance factors before making a recommendation to the court to release or detain you. For example, the offense with which you are charged and your possible substance abuse history may present both danger and nonappearance considerations.

Factors such as prior arrests and convictions or a history of violence may raise danger concerns. Factors such as your immigration status and ties to family and community may influence the report on the risks of nonappearance.

The Pretrial Services Officer’s mandate is to recommend to the court the least restrictive conditions that will reasonably assure that the you will appear in court and that you pose no danger. If no risk factors are evident, the officer is supposed to recommend release on personal recognizance. If risk Factors exist, the officer may recommend either detention or release with conditions. For more information on pretrial detention, see our recent Primer on Pretrial Detention posted on our web site under Articles.

Release conditions are tailored to the individual defendant, but always include the universal condition that you do not commit a federal, state, or local crime during the period of release.

The Pretrial Services officer may recommend that the court set release conditions to accomplish goals, including to prohibit possession of weapons, contact with victims, or use of alcohol or drugs; to restrict the defendant’s freedom of movement or with whom the defendant associates; and to require the defendant to seek or maintain a job, obtain education or training, or surrender a passport.

If the Pretrial Services officer believes that you may fail to appear for court, the officer may recommend a financial bond, which you (or your family) forfeits if you do not return to court as directed.

Supervision

The Pretrial Services Officer supervises defendants in the community to make sure they comply with court-ordered release conditions. Supervision continues either until defendants are released to the community, begin to serve their sentence, are acquitted, or the charges are dismissed.

When the Pretrial Services Officer receives a case for supervision, they review the information about you, assessing any potential risk that you may present and any supervision issues that may affect your ability to comply with the release conditions.

Generally, Officers’ supervision responsibilities are to: 1) monitor defendants’ compliance with their release conditions, 2) manage risk, 3) provide necessary services as ordered by the court, such as drug treatment, and 4) inform the court and the U.S. Attorney if the defendant violates the conditions.

Routine supervision tasks include monitoring the defendant through personal contacts and phone calls with the defendant and may include contact with others, including family members, employers, and treatment providers; meeting with the defendant in the pretrial services office and at the defendant’s home and job; and helping the defendant find employment and medical, legal, or social services. We always ask Pretrial services not to contact employers under any circumstances. We will verify your employment through independent means, such as providing paystubs, and employee ID cards.

If the release conditions become unnecessary, the Officer asks the court to remove them. If the defendant violates the conditions, the Officer notifies the court and the U.S. Attorney. Depending on the circumstances, the Officer may recommend that the court conduct a hearing to decide whether to modify the conditions, revoke the defendant’s bail, issue a bench warrant, or order the defendant detained.

We make direct participation in the interview process a part of our representation for every client. This is a critical stage of a federal criminal case, and the results of the Pretrial Services investigation can significantly affect your freedom and your case.

Pretrial Diversion

Pretrial diversion is an alternative to prosecution that diverts a defendant from prosecution to a program of supervision administered by the Pretrial Services Officer. We have obtained diversion for a number of clients in various types of cases.

The Pretrial Services Officer investigates the individual, recommends for or against placement, and recommends length of supervision and special conditions. We work with Pretrial Services to present your suitability for diversion.
Diversion is voluntary; you may opt to stand trial instead. If the person is place in the program, he or she is supervised by a Pretrial Services Officer. If the person successfully completes supervision, the government declines prosecution and makes no record of the arrest.
Pretrial diversion is a great result for nearly every client charged with a federal offense. There is no expungement of a federal conviction, even for a federal misdemeanor or infraction.

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