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Pretrial services pilot project launched

Program aims to give early help to defendants

A pre-trial services pilot project was launched this month in the East Central, North Central and South Central judicial districts. The program is aimed at helping low-risk defendants stay out of custody while they are awaiting the resolution of their cases and avoid further disrupting their lives and the lives of their families.

“The North Dakota Commission on Legal Counsel for Indigents is excited about the opportunity the Pretrial Services Pilot Program presents,” said Travis Finck, executive director with the North Dakota Commission on Legal Counsel for Indigents, in an email. “We are working towards providing counsel to eligible clients at the earliest possible stage, including the critical stage when bail and/or conditions of release are established. This program gives qualified individuals accused of a crime the opportunity to be released on a pretrial status and provides them with rehabilitative services when they may have been previously held in custody awaiting trial. The program reinforces the presumption of innocence bestowed upon all Americans by the Constitution of the United States of America and the State of North Dakota.”

In Minot, that has meant that some defendants are represented by a defense attorney at their initial appearance, when a judge sets bond. Some have been evaluated by pre-trial services and assigned a score determining how likely they are to show up for all of their scheduled court appearances. That is one of the factors the judge will use to determine whether a defendant should be granted a low bond or an unsecured appearance bond, which means they don’t need to post any money to be released and will only owe the state money if they fail to appear for court. Defendants also are under supervision and have check-ins with people in the pre-trial services program and receive other services.

“It is my hope that the services could help defendants address issues while out on bond,” said Ward County State’s Attorney Roza Larson in an email. “This could then help them to become productive and self-reliant/good neighbors. Also by assisting them out on bond, such as getting them into treatment etc., this could reduce the number of defendants we have committing more offenses while they are out on bond.

“We hear about recidivism of defendants after they are convicted, however … many of the defendants commit more offenses while out on bond. It is not unusual for a defendant to have 2, 3 or more files. We have some with as many as 10 open files, some with multiple counts. It is my hope pretrial services could help offenders and reduce this occurrence,” she said.

Alleged victims can be protected with no-contact orders, Larson said, and many defendants can receive services while out on bond that might help lower their risk.

“The goal would be to address the underlying issues the defendant may have that drives them to commit crimes – ie: treatment (drugs/alcohol), therapy (anger etc.),” said Larson. “If underlying issues are addressed with offenders, it is the goal of the program this will help the offender, and keep society and victims safe, make the offender become a better neighbor, having addressed issues, presumably they would be able to obtain (with assistance) employment, housing.”

The Legislature allotted funding for the pilot program in the last session.

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