Last month, international headlines were dominated by the story of the arrest, and later release on bail, of the infamous WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The recent events of this news story are instructive to illustrate two decisions that are important when facing a criminal charge: (1) hiring a lawyer, and (2) turning yourself in on an outstanding arrest warrant. Before his arrest, Mr. Assange retained counsel who negotiated his surrender to authorities and soon thereafter secured his release from jail while the case is pending. Of course, in many instances, individuals are unaware of pending criminal charges against them before they are arrested, but often there is some advance notice of imminent arrest.
Usually within hours of arrest, an initial determination will be made regarding the conditions of pretrial release, such as setting bail. In Nashville, as soon as someone is arrested and booked they appear before a judicial commissioner who will review any information relevant to these initial determinations and make a ruling. The commissioner will decide what dollar amount at which to set bail and whether any other conditions of release should apply. Here’s a link to the statute regarding general bail considerations. For example, some statutes authorize a defendant to be held in custody for 12 hours before being released even if bail has been posted. Other conditions may include orders for defendants to stay away from certain people or places, place limitations on travel, place limitations on firearm possession or consumption of alcohol. If a defendant retains a lawyer before arrest, that lawyer can accompany them while turning themselves in to authorities and present relevant information to the commissioner or judge making the initial pretrial release determination that could greatly influence their decisions. Otherwise, a judge is left only with information about the allegations against the defendant and possibly information about any prior criminal history. Voluntarily turning oneself in can be a persuasive reason for the judge to consider you likely to appear in court. The judge might also look favorably on the fact that you have already hired a lawyer as further evidence that you will be responsible in cooperating with the court process. On the flip side, if a person is arrested after a police chase, violent confrontation with the police, or extended evasion of arrest, that will likely serve as the basis for the setting of bail in a high amount.
If the initial bail setting is not favorable, under Tennessee Law a defendant may make a motion for a judge to review bail, and again, the fact of having voluntarily turned oneself in can be persuasive to support an argument that the defendant will be likely to appear in court. There may be other times throughout a court case in which this could be helpful – such as a showing of good faith during plea negotiations, judicial consideration of acceptance of responsibility, cooperation for pretrial diversion, or during a later sentencing hearing.