Risk Assessment and Release/Detention Decision Making in New Jersey
The Birth of the P.S.A. Assessment Tool
To detain a defendant, a prosecutor must persuade a judge that no conditions could protect the public or ensure that the defendant will return to court. Defendants at these hearings are represented by attorneys and receive the initial discovery about the state's case. In addition, the system relies on a public-safety assessment (PSA), a tool that allows the judge to make a reasoned decision about detention or release. This risk assessment tool is unique for two reasons: first, it predicts risk on three axes (risk of failure to appear, risk of new criminal activity, and risk of new violent criminal activity) and second, it does so without the need for a client interview.
Using information drawn from court records only, the PSA provides scores for defendants, predicting their risk of non-appearance and recidivism and identifying defendants who pose heightened risks of committing new, violent offenses. The PSA was created using a database of over 1.5 million cases drawn from more than 300 jurisdictions to identify factors that can best predict whether a defendant will be arrested for a new crime, be arrested for a new violent crime, or fail to return to court. The PSA gives no consideration to race, gender, education, socioeconomic status, or neighborhood.
The PSA measures the risk defendants pose on two levels: Will they show up for trial? Will they commit a crime while on release? A recommendation about pretrial release is then made to the judge based on objective factors tied to the current charge and the defendant's history.
Attorney David L. Pine will review the PSA with the client. The scoring of the risk assessment is just the first step in the process of securing pretrial release. As experienced criminal attorney Mr. Pine will review the report, assess its accuracy, and appropriately be prepared to rely on the PSA or distinguish the client's situation.
For example, if the defendant scores as low or moderate risk (1 or 2), Mr. Pine will be prepared to argue why the score is appropriate for the client. However, if the defendant scores are high (5 or 6) or high risk, Mr. Pine will review the factors to determine whether there are explanations for the unfavorable factors that would support the client's release despite the high score.
What are the Risk Factors Contained in the PSA?
The PSA contains nine risk factors that provide three pretrial failure indicators. The PSA draws on objective data available in the court's computer systems and therefore does not require the interview of a defendant.
The PSA provides separate scores regarding defendants':
Risk of Failure to Appear (using a six-point scale).
New Criminal Activity (using a six-point scale); and
New Violent Criminal Activity (using a flag to indicate an elevated risk of violence).