What is the Matrix? A Revolution in Pretrial Release. Whoa!
There is a presumption, built into our Constitution, that a person charged with a crime is entitled to be released before trial; he or she is, after all, still presumed innocent. Historically, at a hearing called First Appearance, the court would determine an amount of money that the defendant must post as bail in order to ensure his or her appearance in court. The defendant then got out of jail by posting a surety bond, which is a bail bondsman’s agreement to pay money if the defendant does not show up for court. In order to obtain a surety bond, the defendant usually needs to pay a non-refundable premium equal to 10% of the bond amount. So, many times, the defendant cannot afford to make bond and must sit in jail waiting for trial. According to the MacArthur Foundation, three out of five people currently in jail have not been convicted of the charged crime.
In the last few years, there has been an effort to reform the “money bond” system, because it unfairly keeps poor people in jail. In 2017, Palm Beach County became one of the first jurisdictions to try a new way of setting conditions of pretrial release. It is called the Pretrial Services Risk Assessment Instrument and Risk Management Matrix — or “the Matrix” for short. The goal of the matrix is to use “supervised release,” in which the defendant must continually report to Palm Beach County Pretrial Services Program, instead of posting a money bond, as the main way to make sure the defendant comes to court. While use of the Matrix is currently only an option for the judge at First Appearance, and not a requirement, it represents a significant shift in our criminal justice system.
Under the Matrix, a representative with the Pretrial Services Program interviews the defendant, reviews records, and then fills out a sheet with eight questions about the defendant’s background. The questions include whether the defendant has a pending charge, prior criminal convictions, prior violent crimes, a history of failing to appear for court, and a steady job. Based on the answers, each defendant is assigned to one of six “risk levels.” A color-coded matrix, listing the risk levels across the left side and different types of crimes along the top, then indicates whether the defendant is recommended for supervised release, called “SOR,” or perhaps even release without any active supervision, called “ROR” for “released on own recognizance.” There are four different types of SOR: SOR I requires the defendant to call in to Pretrial Services once a week; SOR II requires the defendant to report in person once a month; SOR III requires once every two weeks; and SOR IV requires once a week. The court may impose other “special conditions,” such as alcohol abuse counseling and treatment for someone with a drinking problem. In addition, all defendants now receive reminders of court dates sent via text message. Significantly, SOR does not require a defendant to go to a bail bondsman and pay a 10% non-refundable premium for a surety bond.
For certain crimes, or certain risk levels, the Matrix does not recommend ROR or SOR release. Even when it does recommend ROR or SOR, the Matrix is only an option, and the prosecutor will usually ask the First Appearance judge to require a traditional money bond for the defendant to get out of jail. This is when the defendant needs a good and experienced defense attorney to convince the judge that supervised release, rather than a money bond, is the better choice.
Call the aggressive, experienced and highly skilled lawyers at Perlet & Shiner, P.A. to obtain the best results for you.
Nancy Vorpe Quinlan, Esquire
Perlet & Shiner, P.A.