At the beginning of a federal criminal case, the principal actors are the U.S. attorney (the prosecutor) and the grand jury. The U.S. attorney represents the United States in most court proceedings, including all criminal prosecutions. The grand jury reviews evidence presented by the U.S. attorney and decides whether there is sufficient evidence to require a defendant to stand trial.
A good step-by-step guide as to the Pretrial Services Process can be found in this flow chart.
After a person is arrested, a pretrial services or probation officer of the court immediately interviews the defendant and conducts an investigation of the defendant's background. The information obtained by the pretrial services or probation office will be used to help a judge decide whether to release the defendant into the community before trial, and whether to impose conditions of release.
The standard of proof in a criminal trial is "beyond a reasonable doubt," which means the evidence must be so strong that there is no reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.
At an initial appearance, a judge advises the defendant of the charges filed, considers whether the defendant should be held in jail until trial, and determines whether there is probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed and the defendant has committed it. Defendants who are unable to afford counsel are advised of their right to a court-appointed attorney. 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 before trial may be required to obey certain restrictions, such as home confinement or drug testing, and to make periodic reports to a pretrial services officer to ensure appearance at trial.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Does a Pretrial Services Officer work for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, also known as the "government?"
No. Pretrial Services Officers work directly for the U.S. Courts, and more specifically for all judges in the Southern District of Ohio. Pretrial Services Officers are neutral, their role is not to prosecute or defend your case. The role of a Pretrial Services Officer is to provide objective, unbiased, verified information to the Court and supervise the defendant in the community. The U.S. Attorney’s office works for the Department of Justice.
- What are the types of bond may be set by the Court?
There are a variety of bond types ordered in the Federal Courts. They 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 listing 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, electronic monitoring, substance abuse counseling and drug testing, and employment. Additionally, defendants are ordered to not possess 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:
- 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.
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.
- 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 nearly all cases, the Court will order conditions of release as part of the bond requirements. Pretrial supervision is often ordered as a condition of release. Additionally, no defendant may possess firearms or other dangerous weapons, including ammunition while the case is pending.
Other conditions may be ordered and 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
- Electronic monitoring or home confinement
- Substance abuse testing and/or treatment
- Mental health evaluation and/or counseling
- Seek and/or maintain employment or attend school
- Other conditions as ordered by the Court
- What is home confinement?
Home Confinement is a bond condition which requires people to be confined to their homes and tracked in the community. The person is linked to a monitoring system through an ankle or wrist transmitter or a tracking device worn or carried 24 hours a day. With home confinement, the court determines the extent to which people are restricted case by case, requiring some individuals to remain on 24-hour-a-day lockdown at home and allowing others to leave for preapproved and scheduled absences, such as work, school, medical or mental health treatment, church, attorney appointments, court appearances, or other court ordered obligations.
Electronic monitoring is a system used to increase effectiveness in supervising defendants who are required to abide by curfew or remain in their home as a condition of pretrial release.
The home monitoring unit is part of an electronic monitoring system designed to increase the effectiveness of supervising clients who are required to abide by curfew or stay home as part of pretrial release. The home monitoring unit monitors a client to determine whether he/she is at home.
- What is required for electronic monitoring in a home?
Participants must have a residence and a telephone.
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.
Electronic monitoring may be imposed for defendants who have violated the terms of previously imposed release.
Community and familial stability are important given the potential for long term enforced togetherness. Persons residing with the participant must be willing to make sacrifices demanded by the electronic monitoring program.
- I have an urgent issue and my officer is not available. What should I do?
Leave a voice mail message and your officer will return your call upon receipt. If you cannot wait and need immediate assistance, call the main line and ask to speak with a duty officer.
- I forgot to call the drug testing color code line last night, what can I do now?
Call your supervision officer or the main line 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 supervision officer. Defendants are required to bring in documentation to verify all prescriptions for verification purposes. Advise your supervising officer of any new prescriptions you may have and provide documentation.
- I am on Pretrial supervision, and I was arrested or cited. What do I do now?
Notify your officer within one business day if you have been arrested, cited, or questioned by law enforcement for a law violation. This includes notification of any traffic citations.
- I was sentenced and have been allowed to self-surrender to a federal institution. Am I still on supervision?
Yes, all Pretrial defendants ordered released with Pretrial Services supervision remain under supervision until such time that they are placed on Probation or surrender to prison.
A map of the Northern District of Texas is provided here to show the jurisdiction area and limits for anyone with travel restrictions.
Here is the U.S. Bureau of Prisons site information regarding Voluntary Surrender Process and Expectations.