At your first hearing in federal court, a federal magistrate judge will decide if you qualify for a court-appointed attorney and whether you may be released on a bond or held in jail while the case is pending. Initial appearances in federal court usually take place in the early afternoon, usually at either 1:30 pm or 2:00 pm.
The federal magistrate judge holding the first appearance hearing calendars changes every week. You should call the Office of the Clerk of Courts to find out the exact start time and location for your first appearance. You can contact the Clerk’s Office at (305) 523-5100 in Miami-Dade County, (954) 769-5400 in Broward County, (561) 803-3400 in Palm Beach County, (772) 467-2300 in St. Lucie County, or (305) 295-8100 in Key West.
There may be a hearing at your first appearance to determine whether you should be released, and if so, on what conditions. The hearing may take place at your initial appearance, or it may get reset to a few days later if your attorney needs more time to prepare. If the government prosecutor says at your initial appearance that it is seeking to have you held in jail during the case without a bond, then the federal magistrate judge will likely reset the hearing to three (3) days later.
There is no fixed bail amount in federal court. A magistrate judge releases you on conditions sufficient to ensure your continued appearance in court. The conditions of your bail vary depending on the seriousness of the charges against you, your criminal history, your ties to the community, and your financial circumstances.
Bail in federal court is very different from bail in the state system. Bail bondsmen are rarely used in federal court for indigent defendants represented by the Federal Public Defender’s Office.
There are different types of bond in the federal system. The federal magistrate judge may impose what is called a “personal surety bond.” For this type of bond, if you do not appear in court as required or comply with other bond conditions, the government can collect up to the full amount of the bond from you and anyone that the judge asks to co-sign the bond.
The federal magistrate judge may also impose what is called a “percentage bond.” For this type of bond, you or your family will be required to deposit a certain amount of money with the Court (a percentage of the total bond amount). The cash deposited with the court is supposed to be collateral to give the court security that you will continue to appear in court as required. If you comply with all bond conditions, the money will be returned to the person who posted it with the court. A judge may also require that you or your family members agree to certain restrictions, such as promising to not sell a home. Or the judge may require that you be monitored electronically with an ankle bracelet or follow a curfew.
A bond is basically a contract between you, your co-signers, the government and the court. This contract requires that you show up to your court dates and comply with the conditions of the bond. If you do not, you could lose the cash deposited with the court, the government could collect up to the full amount of the bond from you and each of your co-signers, and the government could even arrest you and ask that you stay in jail while the case is pending.