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What is a Federal Detention Hearing?


12/23/2019

If you’ve been charged with a federal crime, one of the very first things that will happen is your detention hearing. And while it happens early in your case, it can have profound implications for you – it will determine whether you will be held in jail until your trial. This can make it difficult to work with your lawyer and keep you away from your friends and family. As a result, it’s important to understand the process, and ideally, hire a lawyer as soon as possible.

Philadelphia and New Jersey criminal defense lawyer Lauren Wimmer can help you get a fair result at your federal detention hearing. With knowledge and experience, she provides her clients with an aggressive legal defense focused on getting a fair result. Don’t delay – call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law at 215-712-1212 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation today.

What Happens at a Federal Detention Hearing

A federal detention hearing is essentially the same thing as a “bail hearing” in state court. The main issue before the court is whether you should be held in jail pending trial. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your case, the prosecution may argue that you should be held without bail. As a result, it’s important to understand your rights and how the law and the facts may be applied in your favor. The representation of an experienced lawyer can have a significant impact on the outcome of your hearing.

Under 18 U.S.C. 3142(g), a magistrate judge must consider the following factors when determining a defendant’s eligibility for pretrial release:

  1. The nature and circumstances of the offense (in particular whether it is an offense which is violent or nonviolent in nature, or involves narcotics). 
  2. The weight of the evidence against the person. 
  3. The history and characteristics of the person. Their character — including physical and mental condition), family ties, employment, financial resources, length of time in the community, community ties, past conduct history relating to drug or alcohol abuse, criminal history, record of court appearances; and whether, at the time of the current offense or arrest, the person was on probation, on parole, or on other release pending trial, sentencing, appeal, or completion of sentence for an offense under Federal, State, or local law. 
  4. The nature and seriousness of the danger to any person or to the community that would be posed by the person’s release.

If the magistrate judge determines that a person is not eligible to be released on his or her own recognizance, he or she can release the person subject to certain conditions Under 18 U.S.C. 3142, these conditions include:

(A) that the person not commit a Federal, State, or local crime during the period of release and subject to the condition that the person cooperate in the collection of a DNA sample from the person if the collection of such a sample is authorized pursuant to section 3 of the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000 (42 U.S.C. 14135a);  and

(B) subject to the least restrictive further condition, or combination of conditions, that such judicial officer determines will reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required and the safety of any other person and the community, which may include the condition that the person—

  • (i) remain in the custody of a designated person, who agrees to assume supervision and to report any violation of a release condition to the court, if the designated person is able reasonably to assure the judicial officer that the person will appear as required and will not pose a danger to the safety of any other person or the community;
  • (ii) maintain employment, or, if unemployed, actively seek employment;
  • (iii) maintain or commence an educational program;
  • (iv) abide by specified restrictions on personal associations, place of abode, or travel;
  • (v) avoid all contact with an alleged victim of the crime and with a potential witness who may testify concerning the offense;
  • (vi) report on a regular basis to a designated law enforcement agency, pretrial services agency, or other agency;
  • (vii) comply with a specified curfew;
  • (viii) refrain from possessing a firearm, destructive device, or other dangerous weapon;
  • (ix) refrain from excessive use of alcohol, or any use of a narcotic drug or other controlled substance, as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802), without a prescription by a licensed medical practitioner;
  • (x) undergo available medical, psychological, or psychiatric treatment, including treatment for drug or alcohol dependency, and remain in a specified institution if required for that purpose;
  • (xi) execute an agreement to forfeit upon failing to appear as required, property of a sufficient unencumbered value, including money, as is reasonably necessary to assure the appearance of the person as required, and shall provide the court with proof of ownership and the value of the property along with information regarding existing encumbrances as the judicial office may require;
  • (xii) execute a bail bond with solvent sureties; who will execute an agreement to forfeit in such amount as is reasonably necessary to assure appearance of the person as required and shall provide the court with information regarding the value of the assets and liabilities of the surety if other than an approved surety and the nature and extent of encumbrances against the surety’s property; such surety shall have a net worth which shall have sufficient unencumbered value to pay the amount of the bail bond;
  • (xiii) return to custody for specified hours following release for employment, schooling, or other limited purposes; and
  • (xiv) satisfy any other condition that is reasonably necessary to assure the appearance of the person as required and to assure the safety of any other person and the community.

Additionally, for some offenses, under 18 U.S.C. 3142(e) there is a rebuttable presumption that defendants accused of certain offenses are not eligible for pretrial release under any conditions or combination of conditions. The categories of offenses that give rise to this presumption are:

1) A judicial officer finds that:

  • the person has been convicted of a Federal offense that is described in subsection (f)(1) of this section, or of a State or local offense that would have been an offense described in subsection (f)(1) of this section if a circumstance giving rise to Federal jurisdiction had existed;
  • the offense described in paragraph one of this subsection was committed while the person was on release pending trial for a Federal, State, or local offense; and
  • a period of not more than five years has elapsed since the date of conviction, or the release of the person from imprisonment, for the offense described in paragraph (1) of this subsection, whichever is later.

2) A judicial officer finds that there is probable cause to believe that the person committed an offense for which a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more is prescribed.

3) A judicial officer finds that there is probable cause to believe that the person committed an offense under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

Your Constitutional Rights

To understand the importance of a federal detention hearing, it is helpful to remember that the United States constitution guarantees you specific rights, even after you’ve been arrested and charged with a crime. First and foremost, you are innocent until proven guilty. As a result, the law favors pretrial release wherever possible.

The Fifth Amendment guarantees that you will not be held in jail without due process of law, while the Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of excessive bail in criminal cases. At the federal detention hearing, the judge (typically a magistrate judge) is responsible for balancing your rights with the question of whether you should be held in jail pending trial.

We should also note that the Sixth Amendment guarantees your right to counsel. This includes legal representation at the detention hearing. As a result, you must be given the opportunity to hire a lawyer prior to the hearing or assigned a lawyer if you cannot afford one.

Possible Outcomes of Your Federal Detention Hearing

While the worst-case scenario is being held without bail, it’s important to realize that there is a spectrum of possible outcomes. Under Federal law, there are four possible outcomes of your federal detention hearing.

  • Released upon personal recognizance. This means that you will be released pending trial without bail. You will have to promise to return to court for trial. In general, this is available only in a limited number of cases.
  • Released upon execution of an unsecured appearance bond. This is what is commonly referred to as being “released on bail.” You will either have to pay a cash bond or get a bail bond. Bail is intended to make sure you will return to court for trial – if you do not, you forfeit your bail to the court.
  • Release upon conditions. In addition to posting bail or promising to return to court, the judge can order you to comply with certain conditions. These conditions are typically imposed in cases where the judge is concerned for the safety of the public. The conditions imposed cannot be any more restrictive than what would be necessary to ensure the safety of the public. You may be required to turn in your firearms or be ordered not to leave the area.
  • Detained until trial. As mentioned above, this is the worst-case scenario. In order to be held in jail until trial, there must be a compelling reason why you should not be released on bail or with other conditions.

The court can also require that you be temporarily detained in certain situations. For example, if you were already on release for another federal or state crime, the court may order that you be held without bail until the situation is resolved. People who do not have legal immigration status are also often held without bail.

Factors the Judge Will Consider in Your Detention Hearing

Federal law requires that the judge consider the following factors when deciding whether you should be held without bail or released:

  1. The nature and circumstances of your charges. Whether or not you are charged with a violent crime, a crime involving a minor, or a drug offense will be a principal factor in determining whether or not you are released.
  2. The weight of the evidence against you. If the evidence against you is quite strong, the judge may decide that you should not be released prior to trial.
  3. Your character and criminal history. In determining whether you are released, the court will look at your reputation among the community, whether you are employed, and whether you are otherwise considered to be someone of good character. Whether or not you have prior criminal charges and convictions will also be important in determining whether or not you should be released.
  4. Whether your release would pose a serious risk to the community. The judge may deny your release if he or she feels that you pose a serious risk to the safety of the community.

It is never “black and white” as to whether a defendant should be released. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know what facts are in your favor and what options are available to you. More importantly, they will be able to formulate a persuasive argument that can hopefully help you avoid being held in jail any longer than is absolutely necessary. Without a lawyer on your side, the judge will only be hearing the prosecution’s side of the case.

Call Us Today to Schedule a Consultation with a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you’ve been charged with a federal crime, you shouldn’t have to face the prosecution alone. Philadelphia and New Jersey criminal defense lawyer Lauren Wimmer knows how the federal criminal justice system works, and she knows how to get you a fair result at your federal detention hearing. Contact Wimmer Criminal Defense Law at 215-712-1212 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case and how we can help.