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How To Get Out of Jail on a Federal Charge: Federal Arrest, Bail, and PreTrial Detention

Let’s focus on the feds today. Arrests here in Dallas (or anywhere in Texas) can be based upon violations of either state law or federal law. (Sure, there are municipal ordinances and county regulations, too, but we’re going to include them under the general heading of state law, from which their power is derived.)

So, say you are busted for violation of federal law, and your arrest is based upon allegations you have committed a federal crime. Let’s not even delve into what that federal crime might be. Maybe you’re alleged to have committed some type of drug crime, or sex crime, or fraud — maybe even homicide or kidnapping charges have been filed against you.

If you are found and arrested by law enforcement, then your freedom will be taken from you. You’ll be cuffed and booked.

You may be arrested by officers from federal agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the Internal Revenue Service (IRS); or U.S. Customs as part of some federal sting operation.

Sometimes, the police may initially arrest someone on a state crime and then end up turning that person over to federal authorities for prosecution under federal law. (This happens more often that you may realize in big drug busts here in North Texas.)

However you got there, you find yourself behind bars and wonder how to get your freedom back. It’s very early in the judicial process, and while getting arrested in itself is pretty basic in either the state or federal system, what happens to you after you’ve been arrested under federal law is much different than what happens to you in a state proceeding.



1. U.S. Attorney Is Prosecutor, Not Dallas County District Attorney

The office that is prosecuting your case will be one of two United States Attorney’s Offices, depending upon where the crime occurred. Our local area is covered by both the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Northern District of Texas and the Eastern District of Texas.

The Northern District covers around 100 counties in and around Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, and extends westward to places like Lubbock and Amarillo. The Eastern District of Texas’ Assistant U.S. Attorneys (”AUSAs”) prosecute federal cases here in the Dallas area, too, as well as in places like Beaumont, Lufkin, Tyler, Texarkana, and Sherman.

Federal prosecutors are employees of the U.S. Department of Justice. The head lawyer for each U.S. Attorney’s Office is not elected; he’s appointed to his job. Most hold these positions after serving in the federal government for many years. U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, John Malcolm Bales, for example, was once an FBI agent back in the early 1980s.

This is much different from the state system, where the head lawyer for the county district attorney’s office is elected to office for a set period of years, and may or may not have been a part of the county prosecutor’s office prior to being elected. Former Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins, for instance, was elected to head the Dallas County District Attorneys’ Office after serving as a public defender as well as a bail bondsman with a successful private criminal defense practice.

Does it make a difference if the prosecutors are appointed or elected (and answer to voters)? That’s a huge debate.

2. U.S. Attorneys’ Manual

As federal officials, all federal prosecutors must follow federal guidelines that are established under federal law and regulation. These include everything that is contained in 18 U.S.C. 3141 et seq., the United States Attorneys’ Manual.

Insofar as you being arrested and charged for allegedly committing a federal crime, the pertinent section of the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual that will control the federal attorney’s actions will be its Chapter 26.

Go here to read the entire section of the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, Chapter 26: Release and Detention Pending Judicial Proceedings:

USAttyManual on Scribd



3. Bail in Federal System

Bail in federal court is very, very different than bail in state court. If you are in state court, then you or your family can call a bail bondsmen pretty fast after your arrest to start the ball rolling on getting you freed.

In federal court, bail bond companies are rarely involved. Here, your appearance in court after an arrest on federal charges will be before a federal magistrate judge. These judges are appointed to their bench; they aren’t elected by the people.

After hearing the arguments of the federal prosecutor (and presumably, your defense lawyer), the federal magistrate judge will make the decision on whether or not you get to be released back into the public, period, and if you are, then if that release is going to be conditioned on bail that they decide is proper.

There’s no fixed bail amount here. That Magistrate Judge will decide the conditions of your release from federal custody after considering things like how severe the crimes are that you have been accused of committing, as well as your criminal history and your ties to the community. You may well need co-signers on your bond.

Under federal law, that bond is a contractual agreement between you, the federal government, and anyone who acts as your co-signer, that you are going to appear in court when required to do so and not skip town.

Be aware that the U.S. Attorney will have done their homework on your background and personal information before coming to court. Check out the advice given to the federal prosecutor in their Manual Practice Note:

“Normally, government attorneys are permitted to view a copy of the pretrial report (usually marked “Attorney’s Copy”). It is important to make such a review a regular practice as information relating to a defendant’s community contacts, pager and telephone numbers, bank information, asset information, criminal history, etc. are all revealed within this report. If your district uses “duty attorney’s” for magistrate court, a review of the pretrial report is essential to make an accurate statement regarding the government’s position on the matter of bond. Remember, however, these reports are not supposed to be seen by case agents, and there usually is a statement to that effect somewhere on the front page of the report.”

And if these government prosecutors get their way in court before the federal magistrate, then there’s no bail and no release for the federal defendant. And that’s a big problem.

4. Crisis in Federal System – People Behind Bars That Can’t Make Bail

Right now, more and more people are becoming aware of a big problem in the federal system: lots of people are being arrested on federal charges and then not being released on bail. They just set behind bars — sometimes for weeks, or months, or even years. Without being tried for anything. Absolutely not convicted of anything.

Maybe you saw the recent John Oliver take on this situation, “John Oliver on Bail and the Poor” – if not, watch it here on YouTube:

This is a huge problem in our country, not just Texas. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research confirms that there’s a correlation between losing a criminal case for a defendant and a defendant’s inability to get out of pretrial detention. That’s just one recent research revelation, for more read the story by Avaneesh Pandey published on August 22, 2016 in the International BusinessTimes entitled, “Pretrial Detention Linked To Increase In Guilty Pleas, Drop In Employment: Study.


For more on this problem, check out our web resources as well as Michael Lowe’s Case Results and his in-depth article:


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