Boston, MA Federal Detention Hearings
Once you have been arrested and charged in federal court, one of your first priorities will be getting released from custody. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guards against “excessive bail” … in theory. In practice, however, a number of considerations go into the federal magistrate judge’s decision. You could be released on your own recognizance, released on bail, released with conditions, or a combination of the three. For the most severe cases, the prosecutor will move for a detention hearing. When this happens, you need a high-quality federal criminal defense lawyer – and fast. You and your attorney will have limited time to rebut the government’s case.
When the U.S. Attorney’s Office moves for a detention hearing, the prosecutor is asking the judge to send you to jail without bail during the pendency of your case. This makes the detention hearing an incredibly important stage of the case. First, your freedom is at stake, while technically you are still presumed innocent. If that weren’t enough, your ability to assist your attorneys in preparing a defense will be greatly diminished if you remain in custody until trial. On the other hand, a detention hearing may be your attorney’s only opportunity to cross-examine government witnesses prior to trial. This can elicit information that would not otherwise become available until much later in the case.
Why is a Federal Detention Hearing Scheduled?
A detention hearing may be held at the prosecutor’s request, if your case involves:
- A crime of violence;
- An offense with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment or death;
- An offense for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 or more years as prescribed by the Controlled Substances Act; or
- Any felony if the person has been convicted of two or more offenses described in 18 U.S.C. § 3142, paragraphs (a) through (c), or comparable state offenses.
A detention hearing may also be held at the court’s own election if the judge believes that your case involves:
- A serious risk of flight; or
- A serious risk that you will obstruct justice or threaten a witness.
When Will the Detention Hearing Take Place?
Ideally, the hearing should take place at your first appearance before the magistrate judge. However, the rules allow the prosecutor to request a three-day delay, and the defense to ask for up to five days. If the hearing is delayed, you will remain in custody until the hearing takes place. Additional hearings may take place, at any time prior to trial, if the judge decides that information exists that was not previously known at the time of the first hearing, and that the information is material to the issue of whether there are conditions of release that will reasonably assure your appearance in court, and the safety of any other person and the community at large.
What Happens at a Federal Detention Hearing?
Detention hearings are informal compared to a trial. In fact, the Federal Rules of Evidence do not apply. The government does not need to produce its evidence or witnesses at the hearing. However, it is the government’s burden to establish that no conditions of release would reasonably assure the safety of the community. Their burden of proof is by “clear and convincing evidence,” which is a lower standard than the familiar “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard at trial.
Your defense attorney can cross-examine witnesses that the government calls. Your attorney can present defense witnesses and evidence as well. Finally, your attorney might help you by suggesting certain conditions of release to the court. Every case is different, and only a federal criminal defense attorney can thoroughly investigate your case. Given the time constraints involved, it is imperative that you retain a high-quality criminal defense attorney – and soon.
Call me today at (781) 797-0555 for a free phone consultation.
What Are the Possible Outcomes of a Federal Detention Hearing?
At the conclusion of the detention hearing, the magistrate judge will decide whether you will be released and if so, to set conditions of your release. The best outcome is for you to be released on personal recognizance, or upon your execution of an “unsecured appearance bond.” If released, you must agree not to commit any further crimes. The judge may issue additional conditions of your release in order to reasonably assure your appearance at future court dates and to ensure the safety of the community and/or a particular victim.
Worst case scenario: If the judge determines that no conditions of release will reasonably assure your appearance at all court proceedings, or that your release will “endanger the safety of any other person or the community,” you can be held without bail during the pendency of your case. The factors taken into consideration regarding your eligibility for release include:
- The nature and circumstances of the offense;
- The weight of the evidence against you;
- Your History and characteristics –
- Character: Including physical and mental condition, family ties, employment, financial resources, length of time in the community, community ties, past conduct relating to drug or alcohol abuse, criminal history, record of court appearances; and
- Whether, at the time of the current arrest or offense, you were on probation, parole, or any other release pending trial, sentencing, appeal, or completion of a sentence for a criminal offense.
- The nature and seriousness of the danger to any person or to the community that would be posed by your release; and
- Your immigration status.
If the judge decides to release you, there are a number of conditions that can be set, including the requirement(s) that you:
- Remain in the custody of a designtated person, who agrees to assume supervision over you;
- Maintain employment, or to seek employment;
- Maintain or begin an educational program;
- Abide by specified restrictions on personal associations, places of abode, or travel;
- Avoid all contact with an alleged victim and any potential witnesses;
- Report on a regular basis to a designated law enforcement agency;
- Comply with a curfew;
- Refrain from possessing a firearm, destructive device, or other dangerous weapon;
- Refrain from excessive use of alcohol, or any use of a narcotic drug or other controlled substance;
- Undergo medical, psychological, or psychiatric treatment;
- Execute an agreement to forfeit property or money if you fail to appear in court as required;
- Return to custody for specified hours following release for employment, schooling, or other limited purposes; and
- Satisfy any other condition that is reasonably necessary to assure your appearance and to assure the safety of any other person and the community.
In cases involving a minor victim, any release order must include electronic monitoring
Can I Appeal the Magistrate Judge’s Decision?
You have the right to appeal the magistrate judge’s decision. If you appeal the detention hearing order, the District Court must completely review the matter and make an independent conclusion. However, it is much better to secure your release at the initial detention hearing. For your best chance, you need a highly skilled Federal Criminal Defense Attorney on your side.
Contact me today for a free initial phone consultation at (781) 797-0555.