The Pretrial Services Officer's Role
There are 94 federal judicial districts nationwide. Within the U. S. Probation & Pretrial Services Office, there is a pretrial unit. The unit's role in the U. S. Courts system is to collect, verify, and report to the judicial officer, prior to the pretrial release hearing, background information pertaining to individuals charged with a federal criminal offense, including information relating to any danger that the release of such person may pose to any other person or the community, and, where appropriate, include a recommendation as to whether such individual should be released or detained. If release is recommended, the officer recommends appropriate conditions of release.
U.S. pretrial services officers make an important contribution to the federal criminal justice process. Their mission is to investigate and supervise, if released, individuals who have been charged with a federal criminal offense. Officers' responsibilities require them to work not only with federal judges and other court professionals, but with U.S. attorneys, defense attorneys, state and local law enforcement agents, and treatment providers. Officers deliver services that benefit the court, the community, and the defendant. Their primary duties are described below.
Officers investigate defendants for the court by gathering and verifying information about them. Investigations include:
- Interviews with defendants to find out about their backgrounds, including family, education,
employment, finances, physical and mental health, and alcohol or drug abuse before a person’s
first appearance in court.
- Criminal history checks
- Interviews with other people who can provide helpful information, such as family members,
employers, and law enforcement officials.
- Reviews records, such as court, school, military, financial and employment.
- Presumes the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. The officer does not discuss the alleged
offense or the defendant’s guilt or innocence during the interview, or give the defendant legal advice
or recommend an attorney.
Based on their investigations, officers prepare reports the court relies on to make informed release/detention decisions. The pretrial services report:
- Recommends whether to release or detain the defendant.
- Addresses whether the defendant is likely to remain law abiding and return to court as required.
- Recommends release conditions for the court to impose if the defendant is released rather than
detained without bond. These must be the least restrictive conditions that will reasonably assure the
defendant appears in court and safety to the community. Release conditions are tailored to the
individual. For example, the defendant may be required to drug test, attend drug or mental health
treatment, find and keep a job, or be placed on electronic GPS monitoring.
Conditions of Release
The officer recommends conditions of release in the bail report. These are the conditions under which the court releases the defendant to the community pending their criminal case. When supervision begins, the officer assigned to supervise the defendant fully explains the conditions of release and the consequences of not complying with them.
Pretrial Services officers supervise defendants released pending the outcome of their case. In supervising defendants, officers:
- Make sure they comply with the release conditions set by the court and address any issues that affect
their ability to comply.
- Monitor them through phone calls and personal contacts, including meeting with them in the office and
in the community.
- Monitor them through contacting others, including family members, employers, and treatment
- Direct them to services to help them, such as substance abuse or mental health treatment, medical
care, training, or employment assistance - as ordered by the court.
- Manage any risk they pose to individuals or the community by verifying their employment, monitoring
their associates, restricting their travel, and taking other actions to make sure they’re obeying the law.
Special Skills and Responsibilities
Some officers use special skills, work with particular caseloads, and take on specialized responsibilities to further investigation, supervision, and officer safety goals. Experience, on-the-job training, and training from outside sources prepare officers for specialist positions. For example, drug and alcohol treatment specialists closely supervise drug- or alcohol-dependent defendants, require them to undergo drug testing, and arrange for appropriate treatment such as detoxification or counseling. Mental health treatment, home confinement, GPS, employment, and firearms are some other specialty areas.
The U. S. Probation and Pretrial Services Office also investigates cases referred to them by the U. S. Attorney’s Office for diversion appropriateness. Diversion is where the U. S. Attorney will hold off from filing criminal charges for a period of time (1 year most common) and, if a divertee abides by the conditions of the diversion agreement, no formal charges will be filed.