If you have been charged with a federal crime, you may be eligible for release from custody. The decision to hold or let you out of jail happens at a detention hearing. A judge will consider recommendations from an officer and listen to the evidence the prosecutor presents when making their determination. They are concerned with whether you would endanger the safety of others or society or would fail to show up for court appearances if released. A federal criminal defense lawyer can be instrumental in building and presenting arguments as to why you should be freed from custody.
The Purpose of the Detention Hearing
A detention hearing takes place if you are charged with and held in custody for a federal offense. It is held to determine whether you should be released or remain in custody while your case is pending.
The hearing may be scheduled if you are considered a flight risk or the government or court believes that you might threaten witnesses or obstruct justice.
It may also be held on the prosecutor’s request if:
- The alleged offense was a crime of violence,
- The alleged offense carries a maximum prison term of life imprisonment or death,
- The alleged offense was a drug crime with a maximum sentence of 10 years or more, or
- The alleged offense was a felony, and you were previously convicted of 2 or more eligible crimes.
Generally, the proceedings occur at the initial appearance. Still, it can be postponed for up to 5 days if your attorney requests more time to prepare.
Before the Hearing Takes Place
Before your pretrial detention hearing, the court will assign a Pretrial Services Officer to collect data about you. They will look into your background and personal circumstances and recommend to the judge whether you should be granted release and under what conditions.
Depending on the situation, the Pretrial Services Officer may ask to speak with you. Note that they are court officers and are not working on your behalf. Interaction with them is not mandatory, and you can choose not to provide any statements.
Factors the Judge Considers
The judge’s decision to release or detain you will be based on several factors.
Some of the elements they may consider include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Your criminal history (if any),
- Your connection to the community,
- Your work history,
- Details about the current offense, including the severity and the weight of the evidence against you,
- Whether you were on probation or parole at the time of the current offense, and
- Whether you would pose a danger to alleged victims, witnesses, or the community if released.
A federal detention hearing is an informal proceeding different from a trial. The Federal Rules of Evidence do not apply. Still, the prosecution may present information to demonstrate that no conditions of release would protect the community or assure your appearance in court.
If the issue is whether you will pose a risk to the community's safety, the government must prove by clear and convincing evidence that releasing you is not the best course of action. In contrast, the preponderance of the evidence standard applies if the issue is whether you are a flight risk.
Possible Outcomes of the Detention Hearing
After reviewing the recommendations and hearing the evidence, the judge will determine whether to release you. They might decide to let you out of custody on your own recognizance or an unsecured appearance bond.
The judge might also order release on certain conditions, such as:
- Travel restrictions,
- Residence location,
- Drug testing, and/or
- Supervision by an authorized agency.
Violating any of the terms will result in a return to jail.
In the worst case, the judge might decide against releasing you if they feel that the risks to society are too great or that you won’t return for future court appearances.
How to Prepare for the Federal Detention Hearing
Getting ready for a detention hearing requires significant documentation and information. If you choose to speak with the Pretrial Services Officer, you must be prepared to answer questions about your family, job, financial situation, and background.
You might also need to call on family members, friends, and others who know you to speak on your behalf at the hearing.
Retain the Services of a Lawyer
The results of a federal detention hearing determine whether you are held in custody until your case concludes or released back home (or to some other authorized residence). Because of the impacts on your life, handling this matter with an attorney versed in federal law is essential.
Your lawyer can guide you through the interview with the Pretrial Services Officer. They can advise whether talking to the individual is a good idea and what questions you should answer.
An attorney can also gather information about you and build a case for your release. They can present evidence in favor of you and challenge the prosecution’s evidence or cross-examine their witnesses.
Moreover, your lawyer can ask the judge to reconsider their decision to hold you in custody when presented with new evidence.
If you have been accused of a federal crime in Broward County, speak with our attorney by contacting The Hoffman Firm at (305) 928-1669.