Who acts like a probation officer, and talks like a probation officer but isn’t a probation officer? Well, they go by many names; some counties may call them a pre-trial release officer, or a bond compliance officer or a pre-trial services officer. But whatever the name, the job is the same: to monitor a defendant’s compliance with their bond conditions. Now we have discussed bond conditions in an earlier post, and they are a list of things that a court has ordered a defendant who is out on bond to do, or not do, or risk having their bond taken away or raised. Well, who checks to see if a defendant is following those rules? You guessed it: the pre-trial release officer (or whatever name that county has for that job).
If a defendant is assigned to a pre-trial release officer, the experience is much like being assigned to a probation officer. You will meet with them and let them know some information about you like where you live, where you work, and various ways to get a hold of you. This person has a job to do: to monitor you. They are not paid to be your friend or to be your enemy, they are simply there to report compliance or non-compliance. If you follow the rules, they can be useful in the court proceedings (more on that later). But if you don’t follow the rules, they are supposed to report that failing to the judge and the prosecutor’s office. It’s not personal, it’s their job. What the court and/or the prosecutor’s office does with that information is up to them. As for the pre-trial officer, they have no independent power and are simply there to gather information and monitor you. They can’t lock you back up, but they can certainly report you to the people who can.
Defendants assigned to a pre-trial officer will generally be given a set schedule for when to meet in person. These meeting dates and times are important: this isn’t Supercuts; bond compliance officers don’t like drop-in customers. Additionally, if a defendant was court-ordered to do something like install an ignition interlock in their car, or report to drug counseling, or provide proof of employment, expect that all that paperwork showing proof of compliance (receipts, certificates, paystubs, etc.) will need to be turned over to the officer. A safe bet would be to keep a copy for your own records of anything that is turned over, in case something gets lost or misfiled, you will then be able to have your own proof if needed.
As frustrating and intrusive as having to report to a pre-trial officer is, there is one potential upside. A defendant who is following the rules now has a neutral court officer who can report to the judge or prosecutor that the defendant is in fact doing what they have been told. This is what I call “building a record of success”. Meaning, that compliance officer is now documenting that every hoop the defendant was asked to jump through, they did. This can help a defense attorney in negotiations with the state sometimes when perhaps the prosecutor was not inclined to offer probation or deferred adjudication. A neutral record of success may be just the ammunition needed to help sway that reluctant prosecutor.
Of course, the downside of a having a compliance officer monitoring you is that if you are breaking the rules, you are now creating a record of failure. Such a record can certainly impact how the court, the prosecutor, and perhaps even a jury might see you. The safest bet as always is to follow all court-ordered bond conditions to the letter.