Federal Courts and Probation Overview

The Federal Judiciary

The U.S. Court System includes the Supreme Court of the United States, 13 Circuit Courts of Appeal (including the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit) and 94 District Courts. The Supreme Court was established by the constitution and all other courts were created by Congress, based upon authority granted by the constitution.

The three types of courts – District, Circuit, Supreme – form a three-tier system with appeals flowing from the District Court to the Circuit Court of Appeals as a matter of right in most instances. An appeal cannot automatically be taken from a decision of the Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court. Anyone wishing to appeal to the Supreme Court must file a petition for a “writ of certiorari”. If the writ is issued, the Supreme Court accepts the appeal and will rule on it. If the writ is not issued, then the decision of the Circuit Court of Appeals stands.

The trial court of the system is the District Court. Cases over which it has jurisdiction fall into two main categories, civil and criminal.

The Constitution provides that United States Judges are to be appointed by the President “with the advice and consent of the Senate” (Art. II, Sec. 2). The appointments are for life, or, more exactly, Judges “hold their office during good behavior” (Art. III, Sec. 1). The Constitution also provides that the compensation of Judges “shall not be diminished during their continuance in office” (Art. III, Sec. 1).

The Federal Magistrates Act, passed by Congress in 1968, created the position of the United States Magistrate Judge. Magistrate judges are District Court officials empowered to perform many of the duties previously performed only by district judges. The use of magistrate judges has improved the judicial system by easing the workload on district judges and providing the public with a speedier resolution of some litigative matters.

The overall administration of the courts is the responsibility of the Judicial Conference of the United States. The conference consists of the Chief Justice of the United States, the Chief Judge of each Circuit Court, the Chief Judge of the Court of International Trade, and a District Judge from each judicial circuit. This conference meets annually and has permanent committees responsible for reporting to the full conference on various aspects of court business.

Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts

This office was created in 1939 to manage the administrative functions of the Courts (28 U.S.C. § 601). The Administrative Office prepares the budget for the judiciary, provides authority for personnel based on established workload formulae and provides authority for the purchase of services, supplies and equipment needed for court operations. There are several divisions in the Administrative Office of the United States Courts and a General Counsel’s Office. The division of the AOUSC directly tied to the country.s federal probation and pretrial office is the Office of Probation and Pretrial Services (OPPS). The AOUSC is located in Washington, D.C.

Federal Judicial Center

The Federal Judicial Center (FJC) was established in 1967 (28 U.S.C. § 620). It is the research and training arm of the Courts. The Center is responsible for research and development and investigating methods of increasing the administrative effectiveness of court personnel (28 U.S.C. Sec. 620). In addition, the Center conducts regular seminars for judges, clerks of court, probation officers, and other personnel of the court system. Both the Center and the Administrative Office are located in Washington, D.C.

Judicial Conference

The Judicial Conference of the United States oversees the operation of the Courts (28 U.S.C. § 331). Its committees, especially the one on criminal law, makes recommendations to the Judicial Conference for actions which affect the probation and pretrial services system.

Organization of the United States District Court for the District of Kansas

The District of Kansas is a component of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals which is headquartered in Denver, Colorado. Other districts comprising the Tenth Circuit are the district of Colorado, the district of New Mexico, the district of Utah, the district of Wyoming, and the Northern, Western, and Eastern districts of Oklahoma.

The district of Kansas covers the entire State of Kansas. Some states are divided into more than one district due to population and geographic factors. This is not the case in Kansas, with state boundaries constituting the entire district. There are three divisional court locations: Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita, with District Judges and Magistrate Judges sitting in each. The Chief Judge is currently located in Kansas City. The Clerk of Court is located in Kansas City, with divisional offices in Wichita and Topeka. The U.S. Marshal is headquartered in Topeka with divisional offices in Kansas City and Wichita.

The Court Family

In addition to district and magistrate judges and their staffs, the court is comprised of other officials who work closely with the clerk.s office. The following is a list of the balance of the “court family”:

  • Federal Public Defender.s Office
  • U.S. Probation Office
  • U.S. Marshals Service
  • U.S. Bankruptcy Court
  • Circuit Librarian
  • Official Court Reporters
  • U.S. Attorney’s Office

Clerk of Court

The clerk of court functions as the chief administrative officer of the court and is responsible for the development and operation of administrative and operational procedures which will result in the most effective and economical management of the court.

Specifically, the clerk is responsible for all non-judicial administrative responsibilities including: personnel administration; budget preparation and submission; space management and facilities utilization; and liaison with the public, bar, press, courts and other government organizations. The clerk develops and recommends court policies and procedures; amends local rules and procedures; conducts special studies; and prepares statistical and narrative reports. The clerk is also responsible for the development and implementation of automation and data processing; records management; jury administration; and the procurement of furniture, equipment, and supplies.

History of Federal Probation

Congress established the Federal Probation System in 1925. Two years later, the first salaried probation officer was appointed and by 1931, 62 probation officers and 11 clerks served 54 districts.

Dissatisfaction with the original probation law resulted in an amendment in 1930, which removed appointment of probation officers from the Civil Service System. Judges were then authorized to appoint probation officers, as well as a Chief Probation Officer, when more than one probation officer was appointed. The 1930 amendment also provided that probation officers were to perform parole functions for the Attorney General. By 1937, there were 171 probation officers. In 1938, standards for probation officers were upgraded by requiring a college degree for new appointees.

In 1939, Congress established the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO). In 1940, administrative control of Probation Services was transferred from the Department of Justice to the Administrative Office.

By 1953, there were 303 probation officers nationwide. This number increased to 1,148 by 1974. In 1988, there were 2,216 probation officers and 1,356 clerks. During the 1980s, pretrial services developed with the passage of the Pretrial Services Act of 1982. Several districts developed separate pretrial service units and the Probation System was renamed the Federal Probation and Pretrial Services System. The District of Kansas is a combined district, with responsibility for both probation and pretrial services.

At the recommendation of the Judicial Conference Committee on Criminal Law, on June 16, 1995, the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts approved a change of title for the Probation and Pretrial Services Division, designating it the Federal Corrections and Supervision Division. The Committee determined that a name change for the Division was in order to more accurately represent the work of district court offices as reflected in the responsibilities of the Division. The Committee noted that the majority of individuals under supervision by the Federal courts are under supervision following release from prison, a situation not accurately reflected by terms like “probation” or “pretrial services”. The “corrections” portion of the title is intended to include the investigative process in both probation and pretrial services as well as other duties.

Policies and procedures for the operation of the Probation and Pretrial Services System are established by the Office of Probation and Pretrial Services (OPPS). OPPS publishes News and Views, a bi-weekly field newsletter, and Federal Probation, a quarterly journal.

District of Kansas

The District of Kansas consists of the headquarters office located in Topeka, and two divisional offices located in Kansas City and Wichita.

The U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Office performs several functions for the Court and other agencies. The office performs pretrial service duties by conducting pretrial bond investigations and preparing bond reports for the Court. The office prepares presentence investigation reports on defendants to be sentenced by the Court. The presentence report is a comprehensive document, containing factual information about the offense, the offender’s criminal history, personal history and sentencing options available to the judge.

Additionally, the Probation Office is responsible for supervising offenders on probation, supervised release, parole, military parole, diversion and pretrial release. In addition to supervising offenders to ensure compliance with the terms and conditions of supervision, officers provide assist in solving family problems, securing jobs, making treatment referrals, and provide other services as needed.