Pretrial Detention and Subsequent Release in DC

On average in the District of Columbia, about 90% of persons arrested and charged with a crime are released to the community, either on personal recognizance or with supervised release conditions, while their cases are pending disposition.

According to statistics from the District’s Pretrial Services Agency, of 1,351 defendants who were released [in 2015] with GPS ankle bracelets to track their movements, 110 were arrested and charged with new crimes. Nearly a dozen crimes were violent, including armed robbery, assault and attempted child sex abuse.

Judges have wide discretion to release defendants who are awaiting trial, either with a simple promise to return to court, with a curfew, to a halfway house or into the GPS program. Judges consider the nature of the crime and criminal records, and look at whether a pattern of violence or a history of skipping court appearances makes a defendant ineligible. They also consider whether the defendant has a job or is a flight risk or danger to the community.

Even those charged with murder and other more serious crimes can be released if prosecutors don’t object.

SOURCE: 11 defendants on GPS monitoring charged with violent crimes in past year in D.C. (Washington Post, Feb. 9, 2016)

Pretrial Release Supervision in DC

Some defendants are released without conditions, but the majority of defendants are supervised by the Pretrial Services Agency of the District of Columbia, which has several supervision programs.

Guiding Principles of the Pretrial Services Agency

  • The presumption of innocence of the pretrial defendant should lead to the least restrictive release consistent with community safety and return to court, and preventive detention only as a last resort, based on a judicial determination of the risk of non-appearance in court and/or danger to any person or to the community.
  • Non-financial conditional release, based on the history, characteristics, and reliability of the defendant, is more effective than financial release conditions. Reliance on money bail discriminates against indigent defendants and cannot effectively address the need for release conditions that protect the public.
  • Pro-social interventions that address substance disorders, employment, housing, medical, educational, and mental health issues afford defendants the opportunity for personal improvement and decrease the likelihood of criminal behavior.
  • Innovation, effective use of technology and the development of human capital lead to organizational excellence, transparency, high professional and ethical standards, and accountability to the public.


Basis for Seeking Pretrial Detention in DC

  • Defendant is on parole or probation from committing another crime
  • Defendant poses a significant flight risk
  • Defendant has been arrested for committing a violent crime
  • Defendant has been charged with a crime involving a firearm, destructive device, or any other dangerous weapons
  • Defendant has been charged with a failure to register as a sex offender or crime with a minor victim
  • Defendant has been charged with a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years or more if convicted

Pretrial Release Standards

American Bar Association Standards

National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies Standards [PDF]