"Pretrial Assessment Services" and "Prearraignment Reviews" in California criminal cases

If California voters choose to pass Senate Bill 10 in the November 2020 referendum, California courts will largely rely on Pretrial Assessment Services (PAS) to determine whether defendants should be released on their own recognizance (OR) pending the outcome of the case. Defendants will no longer be able to bail out.

PAS's primary function is to estimate a defendant's risk level of injuring others or missing court should the defendant get OR release:

Most California misdemeanor defendants get automatic OR release, while most defendants facing serious California felony charges remain jailed. For defendants who fall somewhere in between, PAS holds prearraignment reviews to decide whether to release or continue jailing them pending the trial. These reviews usually occur within a day of the defendant's booking.

Each court will have its own PAS division or will contract with a local public agency to perform the same services.

In this article, our Los Angeles California criminal defense attorneys discuss:

jail door opening
Pretrial Assessment Services decides whether to release or detain criminal defendants in California.

1. Pretrial Assessment Services (PAS) in California

Pretrial Assessment Services (PAS) is a division of California criminal courts that determines whether newly-arrested defendants should remain in jail or released on their own recognizance pending their trial.

If California voters choose to pass Senate Bill 10 in the November 2020 referendum, every California criminal court will have a PAS division. PAS will be staffed by either court employees or contract workers from a local, qualified public agency. The Judicial Council will fund PAS.

If California voters choose to pass Senate Bill 10 in the November 2020 referendum, defendants in California criminal cases will no longer have the opportunity to bail out. Instead, PAS will conduct pretrial risk assessments to determine whether defendants are likely to:

  • hurt someone else if they are released on their own recognizance, or
  • miss future court appearances if they are released on their own recognizance

Scroll down to section 3 for a more detailed explanation of pretrial risk assessments.1

2. Pretrial Assessment Services (PAS) versus Pretrial Services in California

PAS does not supervise California defendants released on OR.

Many California courts or probation departments currently have a "Pretrial Services" division that provides defendant background information and release recommendations to the court. Depending on the particular jurisdiction, courts will create entirely new PAS divisions or rely on a modified version of their current Pretrial Services division.

Note that PAS services will not supervise defendants released on their own recognizance (OR). Instead, the local probation department is tasked with overseeing whether OR defendants are complying with their release conditions.2

3. Pretrial Risk Assessments in California

PAS conducts "pretrial risk assessments" of newly-arrested people to determine whether they are at low-, medium-, or high-risk of:     

  • hurting someone else if they are released on their own recognizance, or
  • missing future court appearances if they are released on their own recognizance

Defendants with a low-risk grade may be freed from jail on their own recognizance (OR) pending the trial. Meanwhile, medium-risk defendants may or may not get released from jail: PAS holds prearraignment review to make this decision (as discussed below in section 4). Finally, high-risk defendants remain in jail pending the trial.

Pretrial risk assessments are based on a validated risk assessment tool backed by science and shown to be reliable for calculating a person's risk level.

Note that people arrested for misdemeanors generally get released from jail without first getting a pretrial risk assessment. The only exception is if the misdemeanor charge was for either:

thumbs up hand wearing unlocked handcuffs
California defendants charged with misdemeanors generally get OR release unless the charges concern domestic violence.
  1. California crime of stalking;
  2. California crime of domestic battery;
  3. California crime of corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant;
  4. California crime of violation of a protective order if the defendant allegedly either:
    • made threats to kill or harm the victim,
    • engaged in violence against the victim, or
    • went to the victim's residence or workplace

In short, PAS may not release defendants on OR if they charged with either of these four misdemeanors.3

4. Prearraignment Reviews in California

A prearraignment review is when PAS decides whether to either:

  • release defendants on their own recognizance (OR),
  • release defendants on supervised OR, or
  • continue jailing defendants pending the trial.

Like it sounds, a prearraignment review takes place prior to the arraignment (the formal filing of charges). Specifically, these reviews must occur within 24 hours of the defendant's booking. (However, they can be postponed for an additional 12 hours for good cause shown.)

If PAS decides not to release a defendant on OR, the court can also conduct its own prearraignment review of that defendant. However, courts may not conduct prearraignment reviews of defendants charged with especially serious offenses -- such as violent felonies.

sign and gavel
Prearraignment reviews usually occur within a day of a defendant's booking.

If PAS decides to release a defendant on OR, the prosecution can request a preventive detention hearing to contest the release:  A preventive detention hearing is where the judge makes the final determination about whether to continue jailing the defendant.

4.1. OR release

Defendants granted OR release by PAS pose a low- or medium-risk of hurting others or missing future court appearances. OR defendants have to abide by the following requirements:

  • Appear at every required court hearing;
  • Stay in California unless the court gives permission to leave;
  • Waive extradition if the defendant misses court and gets arrested outside California; and
  • Obey all court orders

4.2. Supervised OR release

Defendants granted supervised OR release pose a medium-risk of hurting others or missing future court appearances. Supervised OR release is different from regular OR release in that it imposes extra conditions that the defendant has to follow. Common examples of these conditions include:

The PAS is required to impose the least restrictive condition(s) necessary to reasonably assure the safety of the public and the defendant's return to court.

4.3. Detention

Defendants ordered to remain in jail pending the outcome of their case pose either a medium-risk or high-risk of hurting others or missing court appearances.4

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Legal References

  1. California Penal Code 1320.7 PC (g) ("'Pretrial Assessment Services' means an entity, division, or program that is assigned the responsibility, pursuant to Section 1320.26, to assess the risk level of persons charged with the commission of a crime, report the results of the risk determination to the court, and make recommendations for conditions of release of individuals pending adjudication of their criminal case, and as directed under statute or rule of court, implement risk-based determinations regarding release and detention. The entity, division, or program, at the option of the particular superior court, may be employees of the court, or employees of a public entity contracting with the court for those services as provided in Section 1320.26, and may include an entity, division, or program from an adjoining county or one that provides services as a member of a regional consortium. In all circumstances persons acting on behalf of the entity, division, or program shall be officers of the court. “Pretrial Assessment Services” does not include supervision of persons released under this chapter."); see California Senate Bill 10 (2018).
  2. Id.
  3. California Penal Codes 1320.9.-.10 PC.
  4. California Penal Codes 1320.11-..18 PC.

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