In many cases, people charged with federal crimes can pay bail and be released from custody to await their trial. Bail is money or property you put up as collateral to ensure you return for your court date. If you do not appear in court on the scheduled date, you will forfeit your bail, and you can be arrested for failing to appear in court.
The U.S. criminal justice system operates under the presumption that everyone is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and the system is designed to provide all defendants with a fair trial. Therefore, the federal government and all states have laws regarding criminal processes and procedures to help ensure anyone accused of a crime receives fair and equal treatment.
Anyone who tries to influence or circumvent the process for their own benefit, or the benefit of another, may face serious legal repercussions. The government has laws involving theft or alternation or record or process; false bail, and they fall under the umbrella of obstruction of justice.
If you have been charged with false bail or any other offense defined by the statute, you need to understand how the government can prosecute you for the alleged offense, and you should consult an experienced federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A lawyer can explain your rights and assist in developing an effective defense strategy against the charges.
Federal Laws Regarding False Bail
Obstruction of justice can take many forms. Some actions are more obvious than others, such as intimidating witnesses, destroying evidence, or trying to evade (or help someone evade) capture and prosecution. However, it is also a crime to alter, steal, remove, or falsify court records and documents in order to skew, void, or reverse a court's judgment.
Federal law lists three ways in which a person can be charged with theft/alteration of records; false bail:
- You intentionally took court documents from the courthouse without authorization or stole documents that had been filed in court.
- You altered any court records or official documents by changing the content, forging signatures, or modifying the documents.
- You falsified bail by intentionally misrepresenting yourself or your collateral as surety to post bail. The same holds if you are paying bail for someone else.
Any violation of the law is a felony, and you can receive up to five years in prison along with substantial fines, which can be as high as $5,000 or more.
The concept of false bail can be confusing, so consider the following examples:
Jack was arrested for a serious federal felony, such as domestic terrorism, and the court denied his bail. To try and receive bail so he can get out of jail to await trial, Jack asks his friend Dave, who is an employee of the court, to alter the bail documents to make them show the court approved his bail so that Jack can be released. Both Dave and Jack can be charged with false bail.
Jack was arrested on federal drug charges, and the court approved his bail. However, neither Jack nor anyone in his family can afford the bail, so Jack will have to remain incarcerated until his trial. Jack then asks his friend Chris to pose as a bail bondsman and present a phony bail bond to the court. This is a crime because Chris is not an authorized bail bondsman and cannot offer surety that Jack will appear on his court date.
Using the previous example of Jack and his family trying to come up with his bail money, the government allows you to put your home or other valuable assets up for collateral. However, you will have to provide documents to the court that prove you have enough equity in the property to cover the bail amount. You can face charges for false bail if you provide incorrect or misleading information regarding the value of a piece of property (e.g., overstating the value of your home by providing inflated property appraisals).
Other actions can bring charges under the statute as well, such as:
- Stealing or altering someone's will that has been recorded in probate court
- Forging documents
- Submitting documents that have critical pieces of evidence omitted
Additionally, the federal government has related offenses that include the destruction or alteration of records from a federal investigation or bankruptcy proceedings, obstructing the examination of financial institution documents, and assaulting a federal process server, among others.
Defenses for False Bail
A conviction of federal false bail can result in more prison time on top of what you receive from any underlying offenses. Furthermore, if someone helped you in your efforts, such as a friend or family member, they can be charged with false bail too.
Considering you could face five years behind bars or an additional five years if you are convicted of the original crime, you want to consider all your options for presenting a strong defense.
One strategy may be to show that you did not commit the offense willfully. Maybe you didn't know the documents were official court records, or you did not act intentionally to keep the documents or information out of the government's hands. In the case of property valuations, maybe you presented documents and appraisals in good faith and didn't realize the figures had been inflated.
You may have other defense options available, but they will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case. Therefore, you need a comprehensive review from an attorney with experience defending against false bail and other federal charges.
Get an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive knowledge of federal laws, and he has successfully represented many people charged with false bail and other federal offenses in New Jersey district court. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.