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Federal pre-trial detention is about more than money

One of the biggest shocks for people who are facing federal charges is that the court normally does not set bail.

In state court in most states and on TV, a person is arrested, charged, comes before a judge, and bail is set. If you’d like, you can work with a bail bondsman, or if you have the cash you don’t have to.

In federal court, whether you stay locked up before trial depends on a lot more than whether you have cash for bail. This is good, for folks who are likely to get out and who don’t have any cash, and bad, for folks with a lot of cash who are likely not to get out in federal court.

Greatly simplified, a federal court looks at two things in deciding whether you can be released – whether you’re a danger to the community or a risk of flight. The court also looks at whether there are any conditions of pretrial release that might reasonably make sure that you don’t hurt anyone and show up for court.

In fact, the court has an entire agency that does nothing but administer the pretrial release program. They report to the court whether folks who are on pretrial release have complied with their conditions, and people on pretrial release are required to check in with them on a regular basis.

So, for example, if you have a history of not showing up for court, but only for very minor traffic offenses, you may have to check in with a pretrial services officer on a regular basis. Similarly, if you have a history of alcohol abuse that leads you to do regrettable things, you may be ordered to complete alcohol treatment.

The bottom line, though, is that in federal court, what matters is less whether you can afford to pay to be released, but whether there are conditions that can satisfy the court that you’ll show up and not hurt anyone between court dates.

If you have questions about how federal criminal charges are different than state criminal charges, please visit this page on Maryland federal criminal charges or Washington DC federal criminal charges.