Once a defendant is arrested by federal agents, the Pretrial Services Officer conducts a quick but very thorough investigation about the defendant. The majority of the information is provided by the defendant during an interview shortly after arrest, which is normally conducted just prior to the defendant’s first appearance in court. After interviewing the defendant, the officer will either verify the defendant’s information, contradict it, or obtain additional information. The officer’s investigation may include contacting the defendant’s family, friends, associates, employer, law enforcement agencies, and/or financial institutions. The information provided by the defendant is not used to determine guilt rather his/her suitability for release from federal custody.
The Pretrial Services Officer’s job is to identify defendants who are likely to fail to appear at future court hearings or are likely to present a danger to society. The officer must balance the presumption that the defendant is “innocent until proven guilty” with the reality that some defendant may flee the jurisdiction or present a threat to the community.
If the Pretrial Services Officer believes there is a likelihood that the defendant may fail to appear in court the officer recommends a financial bond, which the defendant or the defendant’s “surety” (usually a family member, business associate or close friend) would forfeit should the defendant fail to appear in court. In addition, the officer may recommend conditions of release such as: prohibiting the possession of weapons, or do not use alcohol or drugs; restricting the defendant’s travel and/or with whom the defendant associates; requiring the defendant to seek and maintain employment; obtain education or training; or surrender a passport; among others. Release conditions are tailored to the individual defendant but always include the universal condition that the defendant not commit a federal, state, or local crime during the period of release. In any case, it is the Pretrial Services Officer’s statutory responsibility to recommend the least restrictive conditions that would reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court. If no combination of conditions would ensure future appearance, or if the defendant is viewed as danger to the community, detention is then recommended.
Once the investigation is completed, the Pretrial Officer submits a report to the court with the appropriate recommendation which assists the court in making an informed decision regarding the defendant’s release or detention pending trial. If the defendant is ordered released on bond, Pretrial Services will supervise the defendant until his or her case is either dismissed, acquitted, or sentence is commenced.