How Does Bail Work in a Federal Criminal Case?

Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

I am frequently asked if it’s possible to bail someone out of federal custody as you would do it in state court. The short answer? Yes, you can bail out, but it’s a very different process than in state court.

For starters, in a federal criminal case you can’t just phone up a bail bond agent and post the bond like you would in state court. In fact, there’s no bail agent at all. The federal courts have a division called Pretrial Services (“PTS”) that determines whether a defendant is eligible for bail, how bail will be posted and the conditions of bail.

When a defendant is first taken into federal custody and prior to the initial appearance before the magistrate, PTS will evaluate whether the defendant is eligible for bail. They will assess the nature of the charges (some federal charges are presumptive detention), the criminal history of the defendant, the defendant’s ties to the community, and any other relevant factors such as substance abuse and mental health.

PTS will then make a recommendation to the magistrate. If PTS determines that the defendant is eligible for bail, they will then determine whether any collateral needs to be put up to secure the bond.

In some cases, a signature bond may suffice. A signature bond means that the defendant personally guarantees a certain amount of money that will be forfeited if he or she fails to appear in court. In other cases, PTS or the magistrate may require a close family member to guarantee the bond. This means that if the defendant fails to appear, that family member would be responsible for paying the full amount of the bond (usually in the 5 figures).

In other cases, PTS and/or the magistrate may require that real property is put up as collateral. This usually means the court puts a lien on a house or piece of land owned by the defendant or a close family member.

Bottom line: If you or a loved one has been taken into federal custody and needs assistance in navigating federal bail, contact an attorney. For a confidential consultation, call criminal defense attorney Jerod Gunsberg in Los Angeles at (323) 633-3423 or get in touch via the secure contact form on this page.

Let's talk