Bail Reform: Automated Pretrial Risk-Assessment Process

by | Dec 9, 2016 | Blog, Criminal Law, Law Reform and Amendments

“The automated pretrial risk-assessment process is initiated by police after the defendant’s fingerprints have been taken by Live Scan at a police station. A preliminary public safety assessment is made available to police and prosecutors before the complaint-summons versus complaint-warrant decision is made. If a complaint-warrant is approved by a judge or other judicial officer, the risk­ assessment process will be completed by the pretrial services program while the defendant is detained for up to 48 hours at the county jail. Throughout Section 4 of this Directive, the term “automated pretrial risk assessment” generally refers to the preliminary pretrial risk-assessment process done by a computer program administered by the AOC and initiated by police before a defendant is transported to a county jail, where the assessment results will be reviewed and may be modified based on additional information input by the pretrial services program. See note 3.”

Note 3 reads “As used in this Directive, the phrase “automated pretrial risk-assessment process” generally refers to the process of initiating a computerized preliminary pretrial risk assessment run by using the Live Scan fingerprint system that is linked to the automated pretrial risk-assessment system approved by the AOC. The term “preliminary pretrial risk assessment” refers more specifically to the initial computer-generated pretrial risk assessment initiated by the law enforcement agency making the arrest that is provided to prosecutors and/or designated supervisory officers before the pretrial services program reviews and finalizes the pretrial risk assessment. The preliminary assessment is used under this Directive to inform the law enforcement/prosecution decision whether to issue a complaint-summons or instead apply for a complaint-warrant. Note that the pretrial risk assessment is reviewed and finalized by the pretrial services program after a defendant charged by complaint-warrant has been transported to a county jail. If that finalized assessment is different from the results of the preliminary pretrial risk assessment, the updated assessment should, once available to prosecutors, be used to inform prosecutorial decisions concerning pretrial detention or revocation of release in accordance with Sections 7 and 8 of this Directive.

The term “Public Safety Assessment (PSA)”generally refers to the numeric scores (on a 1-6 scale) and “flag” results of the pretrial risk-assessment process. See subsection  4.2.1. This Directive on occasion refers to various PSA scores in the 1-6 scale as indicating a “high,” “moderate,” or “low” risk that a defendant might commit new criminal activity if released, or fail to appear in court when required. See, e.g., subsections 4.5.1, 7.4.2, and 7.4.3. Those ordinal­ ranking descriptions of the numeric scores generated by a PSA are used in this Directive to provide police and prosecutors a general understanding of how the PSA informs law enforcement/prosecution decisions that are made pursuant to this Directive (i.e., whether to charge by complaint-summons or complaint warrant, and whether to seek pretrial detention or revocation of release). Those characterizations of numeric score results are not used in the PSA.”

An additional foreseeable problem for defendants is that computer systems like Live Scan break down from time to time. This writer has witnessed police unsuccessfully try for hours to access the Live Scan system while attempting to process an arrestee at the station. In my case, the client was released on a summons with the understanding that she would be fingerprinted during her subsequent court appearance. There, the police relied on a traditional criminal history check based on identifiers other than fingerprints and gave my client the benefit of the doubt when no evidence of a significant prior record or active warrants could be found. Logic dictates that law enforcement will err on the side of detaining arrestees under the new pre-trial assessment system. That means that potential failures in the new technology will cause arrestees to be detained for extended periods of hours or even days whereas they would have previously been released.