The Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia (PSA) serves both the D.C. Superior Court and the U.S. District Court. PSA gathers and presents vital information about defendants and available release options that assist judicial officers in decision-making. PSA operates as an independent component of the criminal justice system and is a neutral fact finder. PSA assembles and presents information about arrestees and available release options for use by judicial officers in deciding what, if any, conditions are to be set for released defendants. Our court support services include:
Recommendations to the Court
Defendants usually are interviewed and brought to court within 24 hours of arrest (defendants legally must be brought to court within 48 hours of arrest). Pretrial Services Officers rely on sophisticated information technology to gather and compile local and national criminal justice information. Defendant attributes, prior criminal history, current charge(s), and criminal justice status are considered when assessing potential public safety and/or appearance risks. PSA recommends the least restrictive non-financial release conditions needed to protect the community and reasonably assure the defendant’s return to court. As a result, most defendants are released under supervision conditions rather than financial bonds. Approximately 70% of defendants in D.C. Superior Court are released at first appearance and an additional 10% are released at subsequent hearings, bringing the total to approximately 80% of defendants released on pretrial status, almost always to supervision with PSA.
PSA uses a risk assessment instrument that examines relevant defendant data to help identify the most appropriate supervision levels for released defendants. The assessment scores various risk measures specific to the District‘s defendant population (e.g., previous failure to appear for court, previous dangerous and violent convictions in the past 10 years, suspected drug disorder problems, current relationship to the criminal justice system, among numerous others). It then generates a score that assigns defendants to different risk categories and corresponding supervision assignments to help reduce the risk of failure to appear in court and rearrest. PSA’s risk assessment instrument helps Pretrial Services Officers determine an appropriate supervision level to recommend. A judicial officer makes the initial pretrial release decision after taking into account the representations of the prosecutor and the defense attorney, as well as PSA’s release recommendation.
Investigating Failure to Appear
Whether an inquiry comes from the court regarding a defendant who is due in court or a defendant appears who has missed a court date, an investigation is conducted to determine the reason for a defendant’s failure to appear (FTA). The pertinent information is documented and the court is informed of the findings. Defendants sometimes contact PSA and provide information about a future court date for which they will be unable to appear. This information is investigated and reported to the court, which can prevent the issuance of a bench warrant. Additionally, Pretrial Services Officers routinely notify and remind defendants of court dates to reduce FTA rates and the issuance of bench warrants and assist defendants in surrendering on outstanding District bench warrants.
PSA’s Office of Forensic Toxicology Services (OFTS) operates an in-house laboratory that conducts drug testing for defendants under PSA’s supervision, offenders under CSOSA’s supervision (i.e., persons on probation, parole, and supervised release), as well as respondents ordered into testing by the D.C. Superior Court Family Court. The laboratory is certified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/CLIA and is staffed by professionals with credentials in forensic toxicology, forensic science, medical technology, chemistry and biology. The laboratory performs tests on tens of thousands of samples each month, which translates to millions of analyses for various drugs each year. Each sample, collected from defendants and offenders and Family Court respondents, can be tested for up to seven different drugs. When requested, the laboratory expert toxicologists and chemists also provide expert testimony in support of analytical results and interpretation presented in court or at administrative hearings. OFTS scientists interpret results for new or residual use for over 2,000 defendants/offenders each month.