The Bail Reform Act of 1984


The Bail Reform Act of 1984, found in Title 18 of the United States Code, replaced the Bail Reform Act of 1964. The 1964 act did not allow judges in non-capital cases to consider the danger a defendant posed to the community. In some cases, this resulted in defendants who committed further violent crimes after being released on personal recognizance. The 1984 law closed this loophole, and allowed for detention where necessary for the safety of the community. In addition to the federal statutes governing bail in federal criminal cases, every state has its own bail laws.

Pursuant to federal statute, a detention hearing is required in cases involving violence, including any offense where the maximum sentence is life imprisonment or death, or for certain drug offenses where a maximum sentence of ten years or more is prescribed. Moreover, a hearing is required for certain defendants who have multiple convictions. A hearing will also be held if it appears to involve a serious risk that the defendant will flee, or where it appears that the defendant will obstruct or attempt to obstruct justice or tamper with prospective witnesses or jurors. The detention hearing must be held promptly, preferably at the time of the defendant’s first appearance in court. If bail is denied, the court must issue a written order with findings of fact and a statement of the reasons for the detention.