Legal Dictionary


Flight Risk

This is a term used by a court to describe a person or defendant who is likely to flee the area (including state or country) to avoid criminal prosecution.

When a defendant is first arrested and charged with a crime he is put into custody. At that point, the defendant is faced with two distinct possibilities—to remain in custody or be released. If the defendant is facing minor misdemeanor charges and has no prior criminal history he or she will likely be released on their own recognizance (OR Release), meaning that he or she is free to leave the jail with a promise to appear at the next court hearing. If however a defendant is facing serious misdemeanor or felony charges or has a prior criminal record, bail is likely to be set pursuant to the uniform bail schedule for the county where the defendant is required to appear. If the defendant posts bail while in custody, he or she will be released and required to attend the first court hearing. The purpose of bail is to ensure the personal attendance of the defendant at all times when his or her attendance is lawfully required. If a defendant is not able to post bail, he will remain in custody and brought before the court within 48 hours of his arrest (not counting holidays or weekends).

At the first court hearing, known as the arraignment, the defendant will be read the criminal charges against him. The defendant will likely be in court with a privately retained criminal attorney or a public defender. In some rare cases, a defendant may choose to represent him or herself. It is at this first court hearing where the judge will set bail and or review the bail previously set. The judge could follow the county guidelines set forth in the bail schedule or deviate from that schedule and set a higher bail if the judge believes the defendant could be a flight risk. The judge considers several factors in setting the appropriate bail:

  • Whether the defendant has ties to the community (job, family, relatives), if a defendant is not from the area where his criminal case is being heard, he or she could be considered a flight risk so the judge may set a higher bail;
  • The nature of the crime and the risk to public safety;
  • The defendant's prior criminal history;
  • Whether the defendant previously failed to appear (FTA) for required court appearances; and
  • Whether the defendant is currently employed in the community.

The judge will consider these factors and any other factors raised by the prosecutor in determining what the flight risk is for each defendant. If the judge ultimately determines that the defendant is not likely to return for his or her required court appearances, the judge may deny bail or set a high and deviate from the uniform bail schedule. See also Bail.