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What to Expect at a Federal Detention Hearing

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People who are facing federal charges undergo a judicial process that differs in key ways from state judicial processes. The U.S. Constitution guarantees you the right to appear before a judge immediately after being charged with a federal crime. You can prepare for your federal detention hearing by knowing what this court appearance entails and the results you want as a defendant.

The Purpose of a Federal Hearing

A federal detention hearing is similar to a bond hearing that is held in state court. By law, your hearing must be scheduled within three days of your arrest on federal charges. During this hearing, you will learn of the charges being pressed against you, find out if probable cause exists for the charges and your detention, and determine if there are conditions that will guarantee your appearance at your trial.

Also, you are allowed to present evidence to the court that proves that you are not a danger to the public and can be released on your own recognizance. You must assure the judge that you are not a flight risk and will appear at your next court date without the court having to issue a bench warrant for your arrest.

During this hearing, a federal probation officer also may be present. This officer will present a report to the court about his or her recommendation for your release or detention.

Also, when determining whether or not to grant you recognizance or bail, the judge presiding over your case will avoid taking into consideration factors like how much money you have or can raise for your bail or bond. You cannot buy your way out of detention or bail.

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Prior to Your Hearing

Before your appearance in federal court, you will undergo a pre-trial interview. This interview will be conducted by a law enforcement official known as a pre-trial services officer.

During the interview, the officer will attempt to learn key details about you like:

  • Your name
  • Educational background
  • Occupation
  • Family members and history
  • Financial status

During this interview, you have the right to plead the Fifth Amendment, which protects you from self-incrimination. The officer cannot press you into answering questions that could cause you to incriminate yourself in a crime.

The officer will then compile a report for the court based on the information that you have provided. He or she will recommend to the federal judge whether or not you should be released on recognizance or bail. The judge in most cases gives strong credence to this pre-trial report.

During the Federal Hearing

A federal judge or magistrate will preside over your hearing. As outlined in the Bail Reform Act, he or she will begin the hearing by reviewing the pre-trial services report as well as your criminal record to determine if you are a flight risk or liability to the public.

Factors that will be considered if you should be granted bail include:

  • The nature or circumstances of the crime you are accused of
  • The weight of evidence against you
  • Your personal characteristics including your physical and mental health
  • Family ties
  • Employment
  • Financial resources
  • Your residence in the community and community ties

The judge will scrutinize your prior conduct, your history relating to drug or alcohol use, your criminal history, and your history of appearances in court. Whether you were on probation or parole when the crime occurred also factors into the judge’s bail decision.

According to the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, if the judge grants you bail, it cannot be excessive. Also, you cannot incur excessive fines or be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

By law, the judge must grant you the least restrictive condition or combination of conditions for the terms of your release. This law does not pertain, however, if there are no conditions that exist that can reasonably ensure the safety of the public and your next appearance in court. Crimes that qualify for this exemption include:

  • Drug crimes with a maximum penalty of 10 years or more in prison
  • The use of a firearm in connection with drug charges
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Human trafficking
  • Most offenses committed against minors

If you are accused of and charged with any of these crimes, the federal judge overseeing your case does not have to consider whether or not to release you on bail.

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Conditions for Release on Bail for Federal Charges

If you are released on bail, you will be expected to abide by a number of strict rules. Failing to comply with these orders can result in being arrested and sent back to jail to await your trial.

The most common terms for being released on bail on federal charges are:

  • Surrendering your passport
  • Limiting your travel to the federal jurisdiction for your case
  • Surrendering your firearms
  • Abstaining from alcohol and drug use
  • Obeying the curfew established by the federal court
  • Wearing a GPS ankle monitor

Also, you will not be allowed to associate with stipulated people like former partners in crimes or drug dealers. You must get and keep a job while out on bail. Likewise, you may have to take part in court-ordered mental health evaluations.

The terms for your bail release will remain in effect until your next scheduled court date. At that point, you will have to appear in court to be tried for the crime of which you have been accused.

A federal detention hearing gives you the chance to find out what charges are being pressed against you and if you will be granted bail. You will go through a pre-trial interview in the days leading up to your hearing.

The judge has the discretion of granting you bail and releasing you until your court date or detaining you in jail until then. Your bail can come with stringent requirements that you cannot disobey if you want to avoid being arrested again.

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