Frequently Asked Questions

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Bond & Pretrial Detention FAQs

Upon your first appearance in court, a federal magistrate judge will decide if you should be released with or without supervision, or held in jail. Bonds in federal court are different than the Washington Superior Court and most other state courts. If a person is released with an appearance bond, it typically does not include posting cash or property. If released, the vast majority of defendants are not required to put up money or property. Instead, the magistrate judge will typically order supervision conditions for those released on an appearance bond.

The issue of release or detention is determined at a detention hearing which may be held at the initial appearance or your lawyer may ask for a hearing a few days later. This gives the lawyer and defense investigator time to develop a stronger case for release. Sometimes, the government may ask for additional time to prepare for a detention hearing.

At the detention hearing, the magistrate judge will consider factors such as the nature of the charges, your ties to the community, your employment history, any prior convictions, any prior failures to appear for court, among other things. In general, the law says the magistrate judge can order that you be detained pending trial only if he or she determines that no conditions can assure the safety of the community and your future appearance in court.

If the magistrate judge determines that supervision conditions can adequately protect the community and assure your future appearance, he or she releases you with a bond that sets forth the conditions of your release. For most felony offenses, if pretrial release is allowed, you would be supervised by the probation department and the conditions can vary depending on the seriousness of the charges against you, your criminal history, your ties to the community, and your financial circumstances.

A bond is basically a contract between you and the probation department. This contract requires that you show up to your court dates and comply with the conditions of the bond. If you do not, you can be subject to arrest, detention, and in some instances, additional charges.

Prior to your detention hearing, the Pretrial Services Office do a brief investigation which typically includes an interview of you. Remember that the Pretrial Services Officer works for the court, not for your lawyer. It is your choice whether to be interviewed, but you should discuss this decision with your lawyer first. Also, you should always ask that your lawyer be present for the interview. The Pretrial Services officer will also speak a family member, employer, and/or a close friend to corroborate information provided in the interview. The officer will gather information about your background and personal circumstances and file a report with the judge, prosecutor, and defense counsel with recommendations about whether the judge should release you and under what conditions.

If a Pretrial Services Officer asks to talk to you before you have seen your lawyer, tell the Officer that you want to speak to your lawyer before you decide what to do. If you agree to an interview, be honest. You can refuse to answer any question, but any answer you do give must be the truth. Lying to a Pretrial Services Officer can be used against you at sentencing if you are later convicted, and is also a separate crime. Your lawyer will help you decide whether to be interviewed and what to discuss.

After the interview, the pretrial officer will prepare a report and make a recommendation to the judge regarding release or detention, and what conditions should be imposed if you are released. However, the judge is not required to follow this recommendation. The judge in your case is the ultimate decider of whether or not you will be released and what the conditions of your release should be.

Each case differs, but here is a list of conditions that the Judge may impose for your bond:

Pretrial supervision, drug testing, mental health treatment, travel restrictions, the surrender of all travel documents (i.e. passport), electronic monitoring, curfew, etc. These conditions are enforced to ensure your appearance in court.

Sometimes, the magistrate judge will want the assistance of a third-party custodian as a condition of release. A third-party custodian is typically a family member or close friend who appears in court and promises to cooperate with the Probation Department and report any violations. If a third-party custodian is offered, it is best for that person to appear in person at the detention hearing. The third-party custodian may be asked to sign a document promising to report violations and assist you in complying with the conditions of release.

If you appear in court out of custody and are ordered released, you will still have to go through the "booking" process. This can be done immediately after the detention hearing and it typically takes 15 minutes. If appeared in court following an arrest, you may be released to the custody of Probation Department or the Marshal’s cellblock, both of which are located in the federal courthouse. However, if you were brought to court from the Federal Detention Center in Seatac, you may be brought back to the Federal Detention Center and released from there.

You will need to arrange for your own transportation home. You may come to your federal defender's office to use the phone to call your family.

If you are accused of violating your pretrial release conditions, you may be subject to arrest for the violation. The court will hold a hearing regarding the alleged violation and may either place you in custody, modify the conditions of your release, or take no action at all.

The judge must find probable cause that you committed a new crime or clear and convincing evidence that you violated a condition of your release before revoking bail.