When a person is arrested for a crime, they are held in custody until their arraignment. After being formally charged, a person may post bail to be released from custody to await trial. All states and the federal government have bail and pretrial release procedures, and if you were arrested for a federal crime, you should understand the process so that you are better prepared.
Following your arrest, but before you initially appear in court, you will be interviewed by a pretrial services officer. The officer is an employee of the court, and they will confirm your identity and ask you questions about your job, your family, and other personal information. They will also contact third parties who can verify your statements.
The officer will also check your criminal history and background, but they are not concerned with your guilt or innocence involving the alleged crime. They may ask questions only to verify the charges, but they will likely not enquire as to your alleged involvement. Still, you have a right not to answer any questions until you have spoken to an attorney.
The pretrial officer's job is to determine whether you should be released on bond. After completing the interview, the officer will give a report to the court that will contain their recommendations regarding your pretrial release and its conditions. The judge typically follows the report's recommendations closely when determining pretrial release.
If the judge approves your release, they will typically issue a signature bond and set your bail. Unlike states, the federal government does not use a bail schedule to determine bail amounts. Instead, a magistrate judge will determine the amount based on several factors, which can include recommendations in the pretrial report.
Detention Hearing (Bond Hearing)
Within a day or two of being arrested, you will appear in court, and a magistrate judge will read the charge against you and explain your rights. You will then enter a plea of not guilty, and the judge will schedule your trial. The judge will then review the pretrial report, and they will also ask the prosecutor if they recommend you be released pending trial.
The prosecution may recommend you not be released, or they may approve your release but with special conditions. Although bond hearings occur during the initial court appearance, you can request a continuance to delay the hearing. The law allows defendants to request a delay of up to five days, and the prosecution may request three. However, you will remain incarcerated during this time.
Regardless, you will want an attorney present during your initial court appearance and detention hearing to assert your rights and fight for a favorable outcome. During the detention hearing, the judge will review all recommendations from both sides, and they will determine your release based on two overriding factors:
- Your risk of not returning to stand trial (flight risk)
- Your potential danger to the community
As they consider your risk, the judge will review your criminal history and background information, and they will likely assess any of the following:
- The nature of your crime
- The weight of evidence against you
- Any past failures to appear in court
- Whether you were on parole or probation when you allegedly committed the offense
- Your immigration status
The judge will also assess your ties to your community, or communities outside the U.S., along with your family ties, and whether you are currently employed. They will also review your history of alcohol or drug abuse.
In the best-case scenario, the court could grant your release on personal recognizance or an unsecured bond. If so, you may not have to pay bail at all so long as you promise to appear on your trial date. Conversely, the court may grant your pretrial release but impose conditions you must follow while you are out awaiting trial.
The judge is under no obligation to accept any recommendations from the prosecution or pretrial report, and they can make their own determinations during your detention hearing. If they grant your release on bond, they will also likely impose conditions. Some of these conditions may include the following:
- Undergoing medical or psychiatric treatment
- Attending court-ordered alcohol or drug therapy
- Wearing a GPS-monitoring device
- Surrendering your passport
- Avoiding contact with certain people, such as co-defendants
- Maintaining gainful employment
- Going to school
While out on bond, you cannot violate any of the terms or conditions, or the court will issue a warrant for your arrest.
The magistrate judge could deny your bond unjustly or impose unreasonable conditions. If this occurs, you may request an appeal. You will file a request with the district court judge assigned to your case, and they will review the matter and make a final decision.
Another option for appeal is to submit a writ directly to an appeals court for immediate relief. The writ of habeas corpus, for instance, is a constitutional protection against wrongful imprisonment.
Even if you are denied bond and must remain in custody until your trial, you may experience drastic life changes during that time. For instance, your health may decline rapidly, or you could lose an immediate member of your family that would necessitate your release. Other circumstances may apply, but in any case, you may be able to petition for another detention hearing to seek more favorable conditions.
Hire an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney
From the moment of your arrest, and certainly in your initial court appearance and detention hearing, you will want to have an attorney with you who can help you understand your options, assert your rights, and fight to help you get the best results possible.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience helping clients through all stages of the federal criminal process, including bail and pretrial release. To request a confidential consultation, call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form.