Pretrial Services assists the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas and the Magisterial District Judges with reports and recommendations concerning bail decisions for defendants charged with criminal offenses, and monitors those defendants as ordered. Pretrial Services is a judicial program and a division of Court Administration.
Information gathered by a Pretrial Officer includes a background check of the defendant, employment history, residency status in the County, criminal record and family relationships in order to determine eligibility under the Court's bail program. Recommendations made to the Court may be monetary, non-monetary or conditional, and include recognizance, unsecured, nominal and ten percent cash deposit types of bail. Defendants may be held under bail and detained in the County Prison pending disposition of their cases.
The majority of cases ordered to bail supervision come from the Magisterial District Judges after preliminary arraignment. Decisions at the front end of the system impact not only the prison population but also the workload of all the criminal related offices including the Court of Common Pleas. The fifteen District Courts in Northampton County are the primary work focus of Pretrial Services. The Judges and Magisterial District Judges have the final authority on who is admitted to bail. Pretrial Officers are On Call after normal business hours to assist the Courts, prison personnel and general public when the need arises.
Pretrial Officers investigate new commitments to the County Prison on a daily basis. Those held on bench warrants are identified and scheduled within 72 hours for a hearing by way of a video link to the courtroom where the motions judge presides. Defendants requiring further review of their bail status, and petitions to reduce bail filed by the Defense are also scheduled. Detailed background reports with a specific recommendation are prepared and made for the Court's consideration on every defendant scheduled for a formal hearing. Bail reports and recommendations to the Magisterial District Judges are usually conveyed by telephone.
Northampton County Pretrial Services supervises those defendants placed in the program by the Courts. All defendants are required to "report in" weekly with staff to confirm their location, employment and next scheduled court date. Additional Court ordered conditions of release may be imposed which intensify supervision and commonly involve substance abuse testing, drug and alcohol evaluation, mental health evaluation, or participation in various treatment programs. Domestic violence conditions prohibiting or limiting contact with a victim are routinely ordered and enforced. Electronic monitoring with global positioning, when ordered, is used as a condition of bail for some defendants where extra measures of accountability are required. Requirements for regular substance abuse testing and the necessity for defendants to remain drug free are frequently recommended by Pretrial Officers and ordered by the Judiciary as conditions of bail. Drug free defendants are more likely to appear in Court, avoid misconduct and cooperate with counsel. If adjudicated, defendants may be ordered to continue with drug testing or treatment as a condition of probation or parole. The majority of individuals entering the system experience substance abuse problems.
Notices to appear for scheduled court events are sent to each defendant by regular mail to supplement the process and used by the Magisterial District Courts and District Attorney. The designated Pretrial Officer may prepare petitions to the Court for bail revocation, modification or forfeiture when any violation of conditions occurs. Case information is turned over to the Sheriff's Department to assist in apprehension if a bench warrant is issued. The fugitive rate was .73% in 2011.
We continue to believe that Pretrial Services provides for the supervision of defendants at a fraction of the cost required to keep unadjudicated defendants in custody, and that the use of non-monetary, creative and practical conditions of release always work better than mere money bail and commercial surety bonds. The Pretrial Services Division is committed to managing the bail system in Northampton County mindful of the law, due process, rights of defendants, and the rights and concerns of the citizens of the community. Pretrial Services began in Northampton County in 1981. Duties and powers are specified by Rule 530, Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal procedure and further defined by local Northampton County Rules N527 through N530.