U.S. Pretrial Services Officers are situated at a crucial place in the federal criminal justice process–the very start. In fact, these officers often are the first court representatives defendants encounter after their arrest. In general, the officers' 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 those 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. Defendants may pose danger to a person, such as a victim or a witness, or to the community, that is, a threat that the defendant may engage in criminal activity. The officer's job is to identify persons who are likely to fail to appear or be arrested if released, to recommend 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. If the person does not pose such risk, the officer's mandate is to recommend to the Court the least-restrictive conditions that will reasonably assure the person appears in court and poses no danger.
Officers deliver services that benefit the Court, the community, and the defendant. Their responsibilities require them to work not only with federal judges, magistrate judges, and other court professionals, but with U.S. Attorneys, defense attorneys, state and local law enforcement agents, and treatment providers.
The pretrial services investigation, which forms the basis of the officer's report to the Court, calls for the officer to interview the defendant and to confirm the information the defendant conveys through other sources. The investigation begins when the officer is first informed a defendant has been arrested. The arresting or case agent calls the U.S. Pretrial Services Office and, ideally, provides information about the defendant (such as the defendant's name, date of birth, Social Security Number, the charges, the circumstances surrounding the arrest, and where the defendant can be interviewed).
Before interviewing the defendant, the officer runs a criminal history check and also, if possible, speaks to the Assistant U.S. Attorney about the defendant, the charges, and the government's position as to whether to release or detain the defendant. The purpose of interviewing the defendant is to find out what the he/she has been doing, where they have been living, and working (or what the defendant's source of support is).
Information learned from collateral sources (i.e.: from other persons, documents, and on-line research), may verify what the defendant said, contradict it, or provide something more. 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 may take place in the U.S. Marshal's holding cell, the arresting law enforcement agency's office, the local jail, or the pretrial services office. During the interview, the officer talks to the defendant in private if possible, remains objective while interacting with 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.