What to Expect at Your Federal Detention Hearing
In January 2014, a Texas man appeared before a federal magistrate in Brownsville in relation to his alleged possession of an automatic weapon. At this detention hearing, the man waived his right to have a court-appointed attorney represent him and was ordered to remain in custody. This man’s criminal charges date back to July 2013; why did prosecutors wait six months to bring him to court?
How Federal Detention Hearings Work
In the federal system, detention hearings are very similar to bail hearings in many state jurisdictions. These hearings precede the arraignment, and they are supposed to take place soon after an individual has been arrested by federal law enforcement officials.
In the case mentioned above, officers from the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives claim that the suspect attempted to sell and transport a modified weapon capable of firing at an automatic rate. The matter was taken before a federal grand jury, who returned the indictment that resulted in and arrest by the U.S. Marshals.
Federal Custody and Bail Determination
Defendants who appear at federal detention hearings have typically been charged with felony offenses. In most cases, the U.S. Attorney will press for the suspect to remain in custody by presenting evidence and testimony to persuade the magistrate. The magistrate will consider the following facts when making a determination:
- Ties to the community
- Moral character
- Criminal background
- Financial resources
- Potential risk to the community
Depending on the jurisdiction and prosecutorial resources, the facts above may be presented to the magistrate by a pre-trial investigator. The magistrate may recommend bail amounts or conditions of release, which can range from simply checking in with a federal probation officer to being subject to house arrest condition and electronic monitoring.
Defenses for Federal Detention Hearings
Criminal cases tried at the federal level tend to be far more sophisticated than at the state level. To this end, defendants should do everything in their power to retain adequate counsel and appear in court with their attorneys by their side. In the Texas weapons case mentioned above, the defendant may have chosen to waive court-appointed counsel and remain in custody for the purpose of retaining his own attorney, who can petition for a pre-trial release hearing in the future.
Trying to formulate a defense strategy from behind bars is very difficult, and this is something that federal prosecutors are well-aware of. However, some federal defendants choose to remain in custody until their arraignment hearing when they fear surveillance or when if they are involved in politically-tinged cases.