First, you or your loved one will be informed of the charges being filed by the government. Once you have been informed of these charges it is likely that you will be returned to Federal custody until your preliminary hearing and bond/detention hearing.
What is a Preliminary Hearing?
Preliminary hearings must be held within three days of arrest. However, many attorneys continue these time limits so they can have more time to prepare. A preliminary hearing is your first chance to challenge the government's evidence. The burden on the government during this hearing is very low (at trial it is beyond a reasonable doubt, here it is just probable cause). Also, witnesses can testify to hearsay and from other officers or investigators reports, so usually the government is able to prove that they have enough evidence to hold the accused. However, a preliminary hearing can be used to get good early discovery, get police reports, and determine what weaknesses exist in the government's case. Another benefit of having a preliminary hearing is that it can a federal witnesses' testimony can be used against them later if their story changes or if their theory of the case changes.
What is a Detention Hearing or Bond Hearing
A detention hearing occurs when someone is being held on a federal charge and they ask to be released while their case is being decided. A couple of questions will determine whether you are disqualified from getting a bond. Obviously, illegal aliens or non-citizens are far less likely to get a bond. Additionally, people who have outstanding warrants or pending State charges are less likely to get bonds. Otherwise the judge will ask the following questions 1) What are the defendant's ties to the community? 2) What is their criminal history? 3) What is the charge? Is there a presumption of dangerousness? 4) Was there a victim involved? The answers to these questions will help determine whether or not the judge will allow the defendant out on bond.
How can I improve my chances at getting a Federal bond?
One thing that people can do to improve their chances is to have their lawyer call witnesses during the hearing. The witnesses should be there to testify favorably (and truthfully) about the defendant's character. The witnesses should also be prepared to answer questions about where the defendant would stay and whether the defendant has a safe crime-free drug-free environment in which to reside. Also, if you or your loved one has any pending State issues of a criminal nature those may need to be resolved (especially if there are warrants for traffic tickets or other minor offenses). However, before resolving those issues it is important to speak to a lawyer, because depending on the charge and the resolution your criminal history category may be changed as a result.
Is it important to hire a lawyer before these initial hearings?
Once the decision is made to waive a preliminary hearing you can never get that opportunity back. It is important to make that decision with all the possible facts. You and your attorney need to agree on a strategy as soon as possible so that you can get the best possible defense. While you can always hire an attorney after these initial hearings it is best to hire someone early, especially if you are concerned that you might be a target of an investigation.