What You Need to Know About Bond in Federal Criminal Court

No matter who you are or what you are accused of doing, the thought crosses everyone’s mind. Everyone has the same question when they hear that jail cell door slam shut: When can I get out of here?

Like the federal criminal justice system, federal bonds are complicated and not as straightforward as their counterparts in state court.  First, there is a possibility that you may not be eligible for bond at all, or that government will seek pretrial detention.  If you are eligible for bond, then you will have to navigate what type of bond is available to you, how you will go about posting it and what conditions you must satisfy in order to get out of there.

Given the seriousness of the situation and not understanding what you should do and where you should turn, it is very normal to feel scared, anxious and frustrated right now.  All my clients come to me feeling that way at first.

If you are here today because you need more information about bond in federal criminal court, you need help from a criminal defense lawyer that understands the federal system and will fight to protect your rights, help you protect your good name and limit your exposure to harsh consequences.  We can help.  Get started by filling out our contact form or by calling our office, (305) 707-7345, to schedule your Free 4-Point Case Evaluation and Defense Strategy Session.

Will I Get Bond?

The first mistake you can make when you’re in this situation is assuming that you are going to be eligible for bond and will be released from custody.  While everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, when you enter the Federal criminal justice system the odds are stacked against you.  Speaking of presumptions, there are certain cases where pretrial detention—not bond—is favored, meaning that not everyone is eligible for bond when facing Federal criminal charges.  There are a number of factors that can trigger the government’s request for pretrial detention, meaning that you will have to sit in jail until your case has been resolved.  These factors are:

  • Crime of Violence
  • Maximum penalty is life imprisonment or death
  • Drug offenses carrying maximum penalty of 10 years or more
  • Felony cases where the defendant has two previous convictions for crimes described in the categories above
  • Serious risk flight (meaning the defendant may attempt to flee/leave the jurisdiction to avoid prosecution)
  • Risk for obstruction of justice (tampering/interfering with witnesses, jurors, etc.)

If you do not fall into one of the categories listed above or if your attorney has been able to successfully negotiate for a bond with certain conditions, there is still more that you need to know.

What are the Types of Bond in Federal Court?

Before your initial appearance, you will be interviewed by Pretrial Services.  The purpose of this interview is to gather information that may assist the Court in determining what the bond should be and what conditions should be imposed.  Oftentimes, the Pretrial Services officer that interviews you will also make a recommendation as to bond.

When addressing the issue of bond, there’s typically two things the Court may do (assuming the government is not moving for pretrial detention).  If you are eligible for bond and an amount and/or conditions have not been stipulated to, the Court will set a bond and whatever conditions they feel will be reasonably necessary to ensure your presence in court for future hearings.  If your lawyer and the government are able to agree to a bond beforehand, then the Court will either set bond as agreed or review the agreement of the parties and possibly add conditions it sees fit.

When it comes to bonds in Federal Court, you will be dealing with one of the following: (1) personal surety bond, (2) 10% bond, or (3) corporate surety bond.

Personal Surety

No money is required upfront for a personal surety bond.  With this type of bond you, and possibly close family members, will sign as sureties and guarantee that you are liable for the full amount of the bond.  Let’s say the Court sets a personal surety bond in the amount of $50,000, and the bond is signed by you and your brother.  If you fail to appear in Court, each of the signors (you and your brother) will be liable to the government and would have to pay the $50,000. 

Co-signors will usually have to demonstrate ownership of real property as that means that a lien may be placed on the property in order to pay for the bond should a defendant fail to appear.  Furthermore, co-signors are usually told that they may not encumber (perform work, take out a loan, etc.) or sell the property while the case is pending. 

10% Bond

As the name may indicate, this type of bond requires a deposit with the Clerk of Court for 10% of the amount of the bond.  For example, let’s say the Court sets bond at $75,000, then you cannot be released until a deposit of $7,500 is made with the Clerk of Court.  

Please note that additional steps may be required whereby the government and the Magistrate Judge may have to sign off on where the money came from to ensure that the money is legitimate, “clean” and is not the proceeds of illegal activity.  Furthermore, 10% bonds are usually accompanied by personal sureties.  The reason being that if you fail to appear in court the 10% deposit will be forfeited immediately and the government will then try to collect the remainder form the sureties. 

Corporate Surety

This bond type is the one that is most similar to what most of us are used to hearing about and it is also the method used for posting bonds in the State system.  A corporate surety bond is one that must be posted by a bondsman.  Bail bondsman typically charge a percentage of the premium (total amount that must be paid for the bond).  In Federal Court the percentage that must be paid to the bondsman is 15%.  Now, this is not a deposit that is refundable at the conclusion of a case.  This is the bondsman’s fee for posting the bond and assuming the risk.  It is non-refundable.

In addition the payment of the 15% of the premium, the bondsman will typically ask for collateral to cover the full amount of the bond.  Examples of collateral include assets such as real property, personal property, cars, jewelry, or anything else he or she is willing to accept.

If you need help navigating the complicated federal criminal bond and pretrial release process, we can help.  Give us a call at (305) 707-7345, to schedule your Free 4-Point Case Evaluation and Defense Strategy Session.

Pretrial Detention

If you are charged with one of the crimes listed above, or if you fall into one of those categories, it is very possible that the government will argue that you should be denied bond and instead held in pretrial detention pending trial.  Simply put, you’re right to post bond may/will be denied. 

The prosecutor handling your case on behalf of the government will likely announce during your initial appearance whether they are seeking pretrial detention.  When this happens, you will probably have to sit in jail a bit longer as most detention hearings are continued for as much as five (5) days.  Typically, the reset for a detention hearing is three (3) days, but your lawyer may request five (5) days in order to better prepare for the hearing.  Either way, you’re stuck sitting in jail until the issue of pretrial detention is presented to the Magistrate Judge and the Court makes a determination as to whether you should be held in jail until trial or if you are eligible for bond. One more thing: weekends and holidays are not counted for the aforementioned three (3) or five (5) days.

When this happens the fact that the odds are stacked against you in Federal court becomes even more evident. For instance, the government typically conducts investigations that may last months, sometimes years, and yet when your case comes to court for the initial appearance they can guarantee that you will sit in jail for at least three (3) days if they ask for pretrial detention.  Remember, this window may be more like five (5) or six (6) days depending on the timing of the arrest.  One more thing, let’s assume you’re ready for a detention hearing immediately.  In this instance, the government will still have at least three (3) days with you sitting in jail by requesting a detention hearing.

The Detention Hearing

At your detention hearing it will be the prosecutor’s job to prove that you are either a flight risk (could leave the jurisdiction and avoid prosecution) or that you are a danger to the community.  It’s important to keep in mind that the government does not have to prove both factors to have a Magistrate Judge order that you remain detained.

A detention hearing is a lot less formal than a trial.  Relaxed evidence rules and the fact that government does not need to present evidence or produce witnesses, makes it this way.  However, it’s still the government’s burden to show the Magistrate Judge that there are no reasonable conditions of release that would reasonable assure the safety of the community and/or ensure your presence in court.  Their standard of proof at trial is beyond a reasonable doubt.  At a detention hearing in order to show that you are a danger to the community they only need to do so by “clear and convincing evidence,” a lower standard.  As for the determination of whether you are a flight risk, the prosecutor only needs to prove that by a preponderance of the evidence.

During the detention hearing your lawyer can cross-examine any witnesses the government calls and they can also present defenses, witnesses and evidence on your behalf.   Your attorney may also be able to suggest conditions of release. Once everyone has been heard, the Magistrate Judge will decide whether you will be released, and if you are to be released, under what conditions.

The following factors are considered by the Magistrate Judge when deciding if you are eligible for release:

  • Nature and circumstances of the offense
  • The weight of the evidence against you
  • Your history and characteristics
    • Character: physical and mental condition, family ties, employment, financial resources, ties to the community, past conduct, criminal history, etc.
  • Whether at the time of the offense you were on probation, parole or bond and pending another criminal case, trial, sentencing or appeal.
  • Nature and seriousness of the danger to the community
  • Immigration status

Best-Case Scenario

If you are ordered released pending trial, the best-case scenario would be on your personal recognizance or on an unsecured appearance bond. If the Magistrate Judge imposes any conditions on your release, you must be sure to follow all the conditions imposed by the Court in order to guarantee that you are not thrown in jail while your case is still pending. 

Worst-Case Scenario

The Court determines that there are no conditions that will reasonably assure your appearance in court throughout your case and/or that your release will pose a danger to the community.  If this occurs, it is likely that you will be denied bond and will have to sit in jail during the pendency of your case. 

If you are here today because you feel frustrated about a loved one being detained as a result of a criminal charge in federal court and it is disrupting your life, we should talk.  Set up a Free 4-Point Case Evaluation and Defense Strategy Session with me by first calling (305) 707-7345.  The sooner we talk, the sooner you will have clarity on what you face—and just a little clarity can take away a lot of the stress.

Daniel Izquierdo
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Coral Gables defense lawyer helping clients accused of Federal Crimes, DUI, Domestic Violence & Sex Crimes.