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Penalties for Offenses Committed While on Release - 18 U.S. Code § 3147

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jan 26, 2024

Being released pending trial on federal criminal charges signifies a high level of trust: the legal system has granted you the opportunity to stay in your community instead of being in custody. 

During this period, your actions carry a weight beyond simply obeying the law; they reflect your commitment to maintaining the court's trust. If you are accused of committing another crime while released, the federal government takes it seriously and may penalize it significantly.

Penalties for Offenses Committed While on Release -18 U.S. Code § 3147
Committing a new federal crime while on release, can result in additional severe penalties.

In fact, under 18 U.S. Code 3147, committing an offense while on release can result in the consequences of the new crime and additional sentencing for violating your release terms—which may be even longer than the sentence for the original crime.

18 U.S.C. 3147 says, “A person convicted of an offense committed while released under this chapter shall be sentenced, in addition to the sentence prescribed for the offense, to—

(1) a term of imprisonment of not more than ten years if the offense is a felony; or
(2) a term of imprisonment of not more than one year if the offense is a misdemeanor.

A term of imprisonment imposed under this section shall be consecutive to any other sentence of imprisonment.”

The term “offense” means “any criminal offense, other than an offense triable by court-martial, military commission, provost court, or other military tribunal, which violates an Act of Congress and is triable in any court established by Act of Congress.”

The term “felony” means an offense punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of more than one year.

What Does it Mean to Be on Release?

Being released in the context of federal criminal charges is a conditional freedom granted by the court. This status implies that you have been charged with a crime but are permitted to remain out of custody until your trial. 

Release can come in various forms, such as being released on your own recognizance, where you promise to return for court dates without a financial bond, or release on bail, which involves paying a set amount as a guarantee of your return to court.

The conditions of release are tailored to each case but generally include requirements like regular check-ins with a pretrial services officer, restrictions on travel, and, most importantly, adherence to all laws. 

Failure to comply with these conditions can result in immediate revocation of your release and return to custody, aside from any additional penalties for new offenses committed during this period.

What Are the Provisions of 18 U.S.C. 3147?

Title 18 U.S.C. 3147 prescribes penalties for someone who commits an additional federal offense while on release pending trial for other federal charges. 

The purpose of this statute is to serve as a deterrent, emphasizing the seriousness of complying with release conditions. It reinforces the idea that being on release is a privilege, not a right and that violating the terms of this privilege has serious legal repercussions. 

If you are charged with an additional offense while you are on release, you could be subject to the following additional sentences under section 3147:

  • For misdemeanor offenses: up to one additional year in prison.
  • For felony offenses: up to ten additional years in prison.

Other things to know about this law:

  • The additional penalty is connected to the new offense, not the original charges. That means you could be acquitted of the original offense and still be convicted of the new offense—and the additional penalties would apply.
  • The additional penalty only applies if convicted of the offense committed while on release. If you're acquitted of the second offense or the charges are dismissed, the additional penalty would not apply.
  • The additional penalty must be served consecutively to your sentence, not concurrently. This means the additional time is added to the end of the sentence for the new crime, extending the total time you spend in custody. For example, if you are charged with witness tampering while on release for your original offense, then if you are convicted of witness tampering and sentenced to ten years for it, you will serve 20 years. The penalty sentence does not begin until the original sentence is served.
  • The additional penalty only applies to federal offenses. If you're violating a state law while on release for your federal charges, you'll be charged separately and tried by state courts.

What Are the Related Federal Laws?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 207, release and detention pending judicial proceedings, has numerous federal laws related to section 3147, penalty for an offense committed while on release, including the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 3141 - Release and detention authority generally,
  • 18 U.S.C. 3142 - Release or detention of a defendant pending trial,
  • 18 U.S.C. 3143 - Release or detention of a defendant pending sentence or appeal,
  • 18 U.S.C. 3144 - Release or detention of a material witness,
  • 18 U.S.C. 3145 - Review and appeal of a release or detention order,
  • 18 U.S.C. 3146 - Penalty for failure to appear,
  • 18 U.S.C. 3148 - Sanctions for violation of a release condition,
  • 18 U.S.C. 3149 - Surrender of an offender by a surety,
  • 18 U.S.C. 3150. - Applicability to a case removed from a state court,
  • 18 U.S.C. 3151 - Refund of forfeited bail,
  • 18 U.S.C. 3152 - Establishment of pretrial services,
  • 18 U.S.C. 3153 - Organization and administration of pretrial services,
  • 18 U.S.C. 3154 - Functions and powers relating to pretrial services,
  • 18 U.S.C. 3155 - Annual reports,
  • 18 U.S.C. 3156 -Definitions.

What Are the Possible Defenses?

If you are charged with another federal crime while on release, an experienced federal criminal defense attorney can utilize certain defense strategies to combat not only the charge itself but also the additional penalties. Here are some common defense approaches:

  • Challenging the New Offense: The first line of defense is to show that you did not commit the new offense—at this point, the additional penalties under 18 U.S.C. 3147 would not apply.
  • Procedural Defenses: Sometimes, the defense may focus on procedural errors or violations of your rights. For instance, an illegal search or seizure in connection with the new offense could be a viable defense strategy.
  •  Mistake of Fact: In some cases, you might argue that there was a misunderstanding or a mistake of fact regarding your actions. This defense would assert that you did not intentionally or knowingly commit the new offense.
  • Lack of Intent: Demonstrating that you lacked the intent to commit the new offense, especially if intent is a required element of the crime, can be a powerful defense. 

You can contact our law firm for more information and discuss legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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