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DC Federal Drug Arraignment and Bond Hearings

At an arraignment and bond hearing for a federal drug case in DC a judge will make a determination about whether or not the individual should be released or held without bail. When making this decision a judge will consider a variety of factors including the defendant’s prior criminal history, the nature of the drug offense, the accusation, whether any violence is involved, if they have strong ties with the community, or have assets that could be put up as part of the bond.

Federal vs State Arraignments

Federal arraignments in DC take place before one of three magistrate judges. The magistrates rotate, so depending on the time of the month, an individual could end up in one of the three magistrate’s courtrooms.

With an arraignment at the state level, some of the procedures are similar. It is a question of what state or what jurisdiction an individual is in. Each state has a version of this so that when charges are lodged against a person, there is a determination made about where the person should be while the case is pending.  These procedures take a variety of forms, however, the basics are the same.

In the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, the rules of procedure mirror those in federal court. The local statute in DC contemplates the dangerousness and the flight risk analysis; the standards are essentially the same as those in federal court.

Flight Risk & Danger to Public Risk

The two factors that the judge considers when determining bond are whether the individual is a danger to the community and there is a risk of flight. The standard is whether a person is such a danger or flight risk that no combination of conditions can assure the judge that the community will be safe if the individual is released or that they will reappear in court. At this point, the judge analyzes the situation and makes a determination.

The danger to the community includes the common sense definition of danger. The standard question is, is there any combinations of conditions that would assure the safety of the community.

Establishing a strong work history is sometimes useful in showing that a person is not a danger to their community. Showing involvement in community organizations such as churches can also establish that a person is not a danger. There are a variety of things a lawyer can do at this stage of the process.

Often in a drug case that does not involve weapons, there is a strong argument that could be made that a person is not too dangerous. However, the government often argues that there is a large quantity of drugs involved and that indicates danger to others. If there is any indication of violence, then the government often argues that you are someone who cannot be in the community because they are too dangerous.

Bond Release

There is a statute that judges must follow when making bond release decisions at an arraignment. When determining if a person should be released on bond, the judge will consider whether the person is so dangerous or is at such a high risk of flight that no combination of conditions can assure the safety of the community if the defendant is released.

In the majority of cases, the government prosecutors will request at the arraignment that the defendant be held without bond until there is a detention hearing which must take place a minimum of three business days later. Sometimes, it takes place at a later time because of the time it takes to prepare for the hearing.

However, when a request is made for a three-day hold for a detention hearing, the judge must make the determination if there is an affidavit filed by law enforcement. If on the face of the affidavit or within the document there is probable cause that a crime occurred and the defendant did something wrong, the judge must hold them for that time frame.

At a detention hearing, the judge does not have to hold a person. The problem is that, in most federal drug cases, the maximum possible sentence is longer than 10 years. Because of that, there is a presumption that lodges against the accused, which means the government asserts that they are a danger or a flight risk. The individual must then show that they are not a danger or a risk of flight which shifts the burden to the accused, making it difficult for them to be released.

How An Attorney Can Help

A federal drug lawyer is crucial at this point in the process. A lawyer who is experienced in federal arraignments and bond hearings will gather information about prior criminal history, gather information from family members, and will bring them to the court to demonstrate strong family ties.

Additionally, an attorney may take the clients’ passports into their possession, in order to make the argument that there is no risk of flight because the person is not able to leave the country without a passport.

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