Newly sworn in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg issued new policies and procedures to his staff that substantially altered existing office policy in prosecuting criminal cases. The new directive defers certain prosecutions for lower-level offenses, reduces certain felony offenses, prohibits seeking life in prison without parole, and prohibits seeking bail except in limited violent offenses.
In the federal system, most people charged with non-violent offenses are released on conditions after their first appearance before a magistrate judge. Conditions of release are meant to reasonably assure the appearance of the defendant in court as required, as well as the safety of any other person or the community pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §3142(c). Conditions may be as simple as release on an unsecured appearance bond (meaning no property or money is posted); travel restricted to the continental United States; surrender of one’s passport; surrender of any firearms; and telephonic or in-person reporting to Pretrial Services. In certain serious cases, conditions of release could be very stringent, requiring home detention with electronic monitoring where the person is only allowed out of the home for pre-approved visits with their attorney or medical appointments; surrender of family members’ passports; the posting of real properties with substantial equity; and release of the defendant to third party custodians who are required to report any violations of the release conditions to the court.
I’ve posted before about the line of case following United States v. Trujllo-Alvarez, 900 F. Supp. 2d 1167 (D.Or. 2012), which held that ICE could not detain and attempt to remove a non-citizen defendant charged with the federal crime of illegal re-entry, once the defendant has been released under the Bail Reform Act. Trujillo and its progeny affirm that when the Executive Branch decides that it will defer removal and deportation in favor of first proceeding with a federal criminal prosecution, it is obligated to follow all applicable laws governing such prosecution, including, of course, the Bail Reform Act.
In the federal system, a person may be charged and arrested by way of a complaint or indictment. A complaint is a written statement of essential facts establishing the offense charged made under oath by the agent before a magistrate-judge. Based upon the complaint, an arrest warrant may be issued upon the establishment of probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed and that the defendant committed it. The warrant must list the defendant’s name, or description by which he can be identified, the offense charged, command that the defendant be brought without unnecessary delay before a magistrate-judge and be signed by the judge.
When an individual is charged with a federal crime, whether by Complaint or Indictment, they are entitled to a Bail Hearing under Title 18 U.S.C. Section 3141 et seq. Under the relevant statute, a person may be released on a personal recognizance bond or unsecured appearance bond; on a condition or combination of conditions; or detained. The standard for the court is whether the person will appear for all proceedings and not be a danger to the community.
In January 2017, the New Jersey Legislature amended the State Constitution and passed legislation to dramatically alter the process by which courts determine whether a defendant is held in jail – rather than released – while awaiting trial. While defendants previously could secure pretrial release by paying bail money to the court, the new system, commonly referred to as, simply, “Bail Reform,” conditions pretrial release upon a judge’s determination of the likelihood that the defendant will fail to appear in court or commit another offense, without consideration of the defendant’s financial resources.
When a person is arrested and charged with a crime, they are in most cases entitled to bail. Bail is not supposed to be punitive, rather it is designed to help insure that the person charged attends all court appearances and follows all conditions of release set by the court. Standard conditions may include travel restrictions to the state, no additional arrests, to report any contact with law enforcement (including motor vehicle stops), surrender of all weapons, regular reporting to pretrial services, and an order against contacting the alleged victim, if applicable.
The stages of a criminal case as it proceeds through the legal system can be confusing for individuals who find themselves on the wrong end of legal charges for the first time. Though popular media has no shortage of stories set within the criminal justice system, these fictional depictions often leave out important details. When a substantial portion of your personal and professional future hangs in the balance, it's critical to have a complete and accurate understanding of the steps through which your criminal case will proceed.