27 Nov 23

How Philadelphia Federal Bonds and Bail Work for Drug Charges

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Last Updated on: 4th January 2024, 08:45 pm

How Philadelphia Federal Bonds and Bail Work for Drug Charges

Getting arrested for a federal drug crime can be an incredibly stressful and confusing time. Trying to understand the bail and bond process in Philadelphia’s federal court system only adds to the uncertainty.

Initial Appearance and Bail Hearings

After being arrested on federal drug charges, defendants are typically brought before a judge or magistrate within 24 hours for an initial appearance. This is when bail will first be considered. Bail is money or property given to the court as security to ensure a defendant will show up for future court appearances. If they do show up, the bail money is returned at the end of the case.

At the initial bail hearing, a federal pretrial services officer will make a recommendation on bail to the judge. They will consider factors like prior criminal history, employment status, local family ties, and whether the defendant poses a flight risk or danger to the community. Defense lawyers can also make arguments for lower or no bail.

For many federal drug crimes involving smaller quantities, defendants may be released on their own recognizance without having to post bail. But for more serious charges like intent to distribute or trafficking, bail is common. Bail amounts in federal court are generally much higher than state courts, sometimes over $100,000.

Using Bondsmen and Sureties

Coming up with large sums of cash for federal bail is difficult for most defendants. This is where bail bonds companies come in. Defendants pay these private companies usually 10-15% of the total bail amount as a non-refundable fee. The company then posts a surety bond with the court for the full bail amount. This surety bond acts as a guarantee that if the defendant skips court appearances, the company will pay the full bail to the court.

In Philadelphia federal court, bondsmen from local companies like Philly Bail Out and Barry’s Bail Bonds routinely post surety bonds for defendants. They charge fees based on the bail amount, the defendant’s background, and their policy limits on bond posting.

One downside is if defendants use all cash they have for the bondsman’s fee, they may struggle to afford legal representation. Bondsmen also likely won’t work with undocumented immigrants, who make up over 20% of federal inmates.

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Getting Bail Lowered

Posting a large surety bond may be unavoidable after the initial bail hearing. But defense lawyers can file motions to get bail reduced while the case moves forward. This involves presenting evidence of strong community ties, steady employment, and compliance with pretrial supervision conditions. For example, entering drug counseling or having family members co-sign the bond can help convince judges to lower bail.

However, federal prosecutors almost always oppose lowering bail if there is evidence the defendant is a flight risk or danger, especially for trafficking charges. So getting bail reduced to more affordable levels is challenging in many cases.

Consequences for Skipping Bail

Jumping bail comes with severe repercussions in federal court. First, the court will confiscate any property or cash put up directly for bail. The bondsman will also have to pay the full bail amount to the court under the surety bond. They will then send bounty hunters after the defendant to recoup their losses, on top of the criminal charges faced for bail jumping.

For drug defendants who flee after release, prosecutors will likely bring additional charges for failure to appear. This can add years to any underlying narcotics sentence. It also virtually guarantees pretrial detention and denial of bail if the defendant is apprehended or turns themselves in.

Seeking Release Pending Trial

For drug defendants who can’t afford bail, paying a bondsman is not the only option. Defense lawyers may file motions asking judges to release defendants on their own recognizance while their case goes to trial. This involves close supervision by pretrial services and electronic monitoring instead of money bail. Lawyers argue this allows defendants to keep working and stay with family while exercising their right to trial.

However, these motions are rarely granted for serious drug felonies in federal court today. Most defendants charged with trafficking or distribution remain locked up pending trial. And due to mandatory minimums, many end up accepting plea deals rather than risk lengthy prison terms if convicted at trial.

Navigating bail and bonds for a federal drug case can be a dizzying process. This overview covers some basics of how pretrial release works in Philadelphia. Reaching out to an experienced criminal defense lawyer is also crucial for defendants to understand their options and advocate for fair bail decisions.


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