At the beginning of a federal criminal case, the principal actors are the investigating law enforcment agency and the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Once an individual is formally charged and arrested, they are brought to the federal court where they will have an initial appearnce and arraigment. A Pretrial Officer will then conduct an investigation and make a recommendation to the Court regarding release or detention pending further proceedings.
A good step-by-step guide as to the Pretrial Services Process can be found in this flow chart.
At an initial appearance, a judge advises the defendant of the charges, considers whether the defendant should be held in jail or released pending trial. Defendants who are unable to afford counsel are advised of their right to a court-appointed attorney. If eligible, the court may appoint either a federal public defender or a private attorney who has agreed to accept such appointments from the court. In either type of appointment, the attorney will be paid by the court from funds appropriated by Congress. Defendants released into the community awaiting trial may be required to comply with certain restrictions imposed by the Court and to report to Pretrial Services.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Does Pretrial Services work for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, also known as the "government?"
No. Pretrial Services works directly for the Court. Pretrial Services remains neutral; their role is not to prosecute or defend your case. The role of Pretrial Services is to provide objective, unbiased, and verified information to the Court and to supervise the defendant in the community. The U.S. Attorney’s office works for the Department of Justice.
- What types of bond may be set by the Court?
The bond types ordered in federal court include:
- Personal Recognizance Bond: Defendant is released on his/her written promise to appear at all future court proceedings.
- Unsecured Bond: Defendant is released on his/her written promise to appear at all future court proceedings AND to pay the Court the full bond amount in the event he/she fails to appear.
- Secured Bond: Defendant’s release requires cash or collateral (property) be posted with the Court prior to the defendant’s release from custody.
- Surety Bond: Defendant’s release requires a bondsman, attorney, or similar party to post surety prior to the defendant’s release from custody. All sureties used must be on the Clerk of Court’s list of approved sureties.
- Release with Conditions: In addition to the above-mentioned bonds, the Court may order pretrial supervision and reporting as a condition of release with bond. Conditions ordered may include: travel restrictions, home confinement, substance abuse counseling and drug testing, and an employment requirement. Additionally, defendants are prohibited from possessing any firearm, destructive devices, or other dangerous weapons while on pretrial release.
- What is needed to post a property bond?
The property owner posting the bond must provide the following items to the Court:
The property bond MUST be signed by all parties named on the deed. Anyone posting a property bond with the Court should check with the Clerk of Court for additional requirements.
- Copy of the deed to the property;
- The most recent paid real estate tax receipt;
- Copy of the insurance policy; and
- A statement of the balance due on the mortgage.
- What happens if the bond is revoked?
Forfeiture of bond may occur if the defendant fails to appear and bond is revoked. The judge may issue a bench warrant and declare a revocation of the bail bond or appearance bond.
- What does it mean when someone is a third party custodian?
This is a condition of release that designates an individual who agrees to assume supervision of the defendant and report any violations of release conditions to the Court. The custodian must inform the Court if they believe the defendant will fail to appear, or if the defendant’s behavior becomes a danger to the community.
- What are the conditions of release?
In most cases, the Court will order conditions of release as part of the bond requirements and pretrial supervision is also ordered as one of those conditions. Additionally, defendants may not possess firearms or other dangerous weapons, including ammunition while the case is pending.
Other conditions that may be ordered could include one or all of the following:
- Avoid all contact with any victims or potential witnesses
- Report all contact with law enforcement
- Surrender passport and obtain no new passport
- Home confinement with electronic monitoring
- Substance abuse testing and/or treatment
- Mental health evaluation and/or counseling
- Seek and/or maintain employment or attend school
- What is required for electronic monitoring in a home?
Participants must have a residence and land-line telephone. In limited circumstances, a cellular phone unit may be utilizied.
A private telephone line must exist within the home with no party lines. Any custom calling features such as call waiting, caller id, call forwarding, voice mail, etc. must be removed prior to installation of the home monitoring unit. Cordless telephones, answering machines, and computer modems are not permitted.
An ankle transmitter is worn by the client. The ankle transmitter sends a coded signal that identifies the participant and contains security circuitry that is able to detect tampers or removal, and sends a special signal to the monitoring center when either occurs.
- I have an urgent issue and my officer is not available. What should I do?
Leave a voice mail message and your supervising officer will return your call upon receipt. If you cannot wait and need immediate assistance, call the main office and ask to speak with a duty officer.
- I forgot to call the drug testing line last night, what can I do now?
Call your supervising officer or the main office as soon as possible to check to see if you are scheduled for drug testing today.
- I am on drug testing and was just prescribed medication by my doctor. What should I do?
All prescriptions should be immediately reported to your supervising officer. Defendants are required to bring in documentation to verify all prescriptions. Advise your supervising officer of any change to your prescription medications and provide documentation.
- I am on Pretrial supervision, and I was arrested or cited. What do I do now?
Notify your supervising officer as soon as possible of any arrest, citation/ticket, or questioning by law enforcement. This even includes traffic or moving violations.
- I was sentenced and have been allowed to self-surrender to a federal institution. Am I still on supervision?
Yes, you will remain under supervision until such time that you surrender to the institution, unless otherwise ordered by the Court. You should discuss with your supervising officer your travel plans prior to your surrender date.
Here is the U.S. Bureau of Prisons site information regarding Voluntary Surrender Process and Expectations.