What is a Federal Detention Hearing?

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Detention hearings are evidentiary hearings that are conducted by Magistrate Judges or District Court Judges to determine if an individual should be detained pending the resolution or sentencing on a federal criminal case.

Who Conducts a Federal Detention Hearing?

A federal detention hearing is conducted by a judicial officer, as that term is defined in 18 U.S.C. Section 3156(a)(1). A judicial officer is any person or court authorized to detain or release a person before trial or pending sentencing or appeal in any Court of the United States or any judge in a Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Under this definition, both the U.S. District Court Judges and U.S. Magistrate Judges are judicial officers who are authorized to conduct detention hearings. Practically speaking, it is usually a U.S. Magistrate Judge that conducts detention. This is usually done after a referral is made to the U.S. Magistrate Court Judge by the District Judge.

Which Cases Qualify for a Detention Hearing?

18 U.S.C. Section 3142(f) defines specific situations under which a judicial officer may hold a detention hearing. The cases are broken up onto two categories. The first category of cases are those that require a motion by a federal prosecutor, Assistant United States Attorney. The second category of cases are those that require a motion either by a federal prosecutor, or the Court itself.

Detention Hearings on Motion of the U.S. Attorney’s Office

Upon the motion of the Government attorney, federal detention hearings are held on these cases:

  1. A crime of violence;
  2. An offense with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment or death;
  3. An offense for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 or more years as prescribed by the Controlled Substances Act; OR
  4. Any felony if the person has been convicted of two or more offenses described in paragraphs (1) through (3) or comparable state offenses.

Detention Hearings on Motion of the U.S. Attorney’s Office or the Court

Upon the motion of the Government attorney or on the Court’s own motion, federal detention hearings are held in cases that involve:

  1. A serious risk of flight; OR
  2. A serious risk that the defendant will obstruct justice or threaten a witness.

How are Federal Detention Hearings Conducted?

Federal Detention Hearings involve both the Government and the Defense being given an opportunity to present to the judicial officer why an individual should be detained or allowed to stay out pending the resolution of the case. Detention hearings are presented by way of proffer. That means that a federal prosecutor does not need to call a case agent to explain to the Judge the nature of their investigation. Rather, the federal prosecutor can summarize to the judge the nature of the law enforcement’s investigation, as well as the evidence against the individual.

What Information Does a Judicial Officer Rely on in Making a Determination?

A judicial officer will review the Pre-trial report to determine what conditions of release, if any, the pre-trial officer is recommending. The judge will also review any written submissions by the defense and the federal prosecutor. If you have a detention hearing, it is essential that you with the help of your attorney obtain letters of support from your family and friends to show to the court that you have strong community ties and people who will ensure your appearance for all future court dates.

What is the Burden of Proof in a Federal Detention Hearing?

In order to release someone, the judicial officer must determine that there is a set of conditions that can reasonably assure (1) appearance for future court appearances and (2) the safety of community at large. If both those factors are established, then the judicial officer will release someone pending the outcome of their case.

Contact Top Rated Criminal Defense Attorneys With Questions About Your Federal Detention Hearing

If you or your loved one have questions regarding a federal detention hearing, or if you need an attorney to represent you at a detention hearing, please contact us to schedule your initial consultation. We have handled and prevailed in numerous detention hearings. Although each case is different, we will work together with you to develop a persuasive submission to the court as to why you should be allowed to stay out pending sentencing.