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  Overview | History | Mission & Function | Officers | Application

U.S. Pretrial Services Officers are situated at a crucial place in the federal criminal justice process, the very start. In fact, officers are often the first court representatives defendants encounter after their arrest. In general, an officer’s mission is to investigate defendants charged 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.

At the core of the day-to-day work of officers is the hallowed principle of criminal law that the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Officers must balance this presumption with the reality that some persons, if not detained before their trial, are likely to flee or to threaten others. The officer's job is to identify persons who are likely to fail to appear or be arrested if released, to recommend the least restrictive conditions that would reasonably assure the defendant's appearance in court and the safety of the community, and to recommend detention when no such conditions exist.

The officer conducts a pretrial services investigation, gathering and verifying important information about the defendant and the defendant's suitability for pretrial release.
The pretrial services investigation calls for the officer to interview the defendant and to verify the information the defendant conveys through other sources. The investigation begins when the officer is first informed that a defendant has been arrested. 

Before interviewing the defendant, the officer runs a criminal history check and also, if possible, speaks to the assistant U.S. attorney and/or the case agent about the defendant, the charges, and the government's position as to whether to release or detain the defendant. The purpose of the interview is to find out what the defendant has been doing, where the defendant has been living, and where the defendant has been working (or what the defendant's source of support is).

What the officer learns from collateral sources (i.e. family members, friends, other documents, and on-line research) may verify what the defendant said, contradict it, or provide additional information.  The officer's research, for instance, may include contacting the defendant's family and associates to confirm background information, employers to verify employment, law enforcement agencies to obtain a criminal history, financial institutions to obtain bank or credit card statements, and the motor vehicle administration to check the defendant's license and registration.

The interview takes place in the U.S. Marshal's holding cell. During the interview, the officer talks to the defendant and explains that the information will be used to decide whether the defendant will be released or detained. The officer does not discuss the alleged offense or the defendant's guilt or innocence. The officer also does not give legal advice to the defendant or recommend an attorney.

The pretrial services report addresses two basic questions: Is the defendant likely to come back to court and stay out of trouble? If not, what conditions should the court impose to increase the likelihood? The officer considers both danger and nonappearance factors before making a recommendation to the court to release or detain the defendant.

The officer supervises offenders in the community to make sure they comply with court ordered conditions of release.

Officers supervise defendants released to the community until they begin to serve their sentence, the charges are dismissed, or they are acquitted. Generally, officer's 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’s office if the defendant violates the conditions.

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

Pretrial diversion is an alternative to prosecution that diverts the defendant from prosecution to a program of supervision administered by the Pretrial Services Officer. The U.S. Attorney’s office identifies candidates for diversion, typically persons who have not adopted a criminal lifestyle and who are likely to complete the program successfully. The Pretrial Services Officer investigates the individual, recommends for or against placement, and recommends length of supervision and special conditions. Diversion is voluntary: the person may opt to stand trial instead. If the person successfully completes supervision, the government declines prosecution and makes no record of the arrest.



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