Pretrial Process Overview: Generally, the first contact a defendant has with the probation office is after they have been arrested, or pursuant to a summons. The defendant is encountered by a probation officer with the pretrial services unit (ie., Pretrial Services). Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3142 and the Bail Reform Act, a determination must be made whether any conditions or combination of conditions exist will reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance at future court proceedings and/or not endanger any person or the community.
Pretrial Investigation: 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. Pretrial Services will then conduct an investigation and make a recommendation to the Court regarding release or detention pending further proceedings. A typical pretrial investigation encompasses the following elements:
- The initial/bail interview of a defendant is one aspect of the investigation which helps to inform the Court what risks, if any, he/she poses if released while the criminal case is pending.
- When risks are identified, Pretrial Services must assess what conditions, if any, can be fashioned to mitigate the risks. Notably, the law requires that these conditions must be the least restrictive.
- Once the investigation is completed, Pretrial Services recommends to the Court that the defendant either be detained, be released on conditions with pretrial supervision, or be released on personal recognizance without any special conditions or supervision.
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.
- A step-by-step guide as to the Pretrial Services Process can be found in this flow chart
- U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) information regarding Voluntary Surrender Process and Expectations
- Frequently Asked Questions (Pretrial)
Pretrial Supervision: Pretrial Services is also responsible for monitoring the defendant in the community and ensuring that the defendant complies with all release conditions set by the Court pending the outcome of their case. Pretrial Services also assists defendants in addressing critical areas of concern in their life and sometimes refers them for services such as substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, medical care, training, or employment assistance. In addition to reporting to the office, defendants can expect officers to conduct home, work, and other community contacts.
Online reporting is done through the ERS National Reporting website. The supervising officer provides you the login ID and initial password. You can change your password once you log in, and you will then supply the requested information (including security questions) and follow the screen prompts.
Here are the e-reporting instructions showing how the process works.
Pretrial Diversion: The Pretrial Diversion (PTD) Program is an alternative to prosecution which diverts certain candidates from criminal prosecution by placing them into a program of supervision and services monitored by Pretrial Services. Candidates can be diverted before being charged or at any point prior to trial. The U.S. Attorney, in his/her discretion, may divert any individual against whom a prosecutable case exists and who is not:
- Accused of an offense which should be diverted to the state for prosecution (under existing U.S. Department of Justice guidelines).
- A person with two or more felony convictions.
- A public official or former public official charged or accused of an offense violating public trust.
- Accused of an offense related to national security or foreign affairs.
Participation in the PTD program is voluntary and must be recommended by the prosecutor. Pretrial Services conducts an investigation to determine whether or not a candidate is appropriate and recommends conditions that must be satisfied by the participant. Participants who successfully complete the program will not be charged or, if charged, will have the charges against them dismissed; unsuccessful participants are returned for prosecution. The period of supervision is not to exceed 18 months but may be reduced.
The major objectives of the PTD program are:
- To prevent future criminal activity by diverting individuals from prosecution and placing them into community supervision and services.
- To save prosecutorial and judicial resources on first-time offenders and low-level cases.
- To provide a mechanism for restitution to communities and victims of crime.