What is a detainer?

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We get at least 10 calls or emails a week about detainers. People want to know everything from the practicality of getting a detainer lifted and some folks want to know all of the technical aspects involving detainers.

Basically, if you have a detainer, you cannot get out of jail by paying bail. You must instead get your detainer lifted by the judge who put you on probation, or by a judge assigned to supervise your probation. In order to get the detainer lifted, you must appear in front of this judge, often referred to as the ‘back judge’ and ask them to lift the detainer. This can be accomplished by having the attorney file an order for hearing and request that the case be scheduled sooner than later. Once you are before the judge, they judge will look to see if you have any violations of your probation or parole and then determine if they want to re-sentence you or if they want to continue your probation. Often, the process is much more complicated then what i have written above.

A more advanced answer is that you have an original case that you were either found guilty or plead guilty and you now have probation with that back judge. While you are on your probation, you pick up a new case, meaning that you get arrested on a new case while you are serving probation.

In general there are two types of violations to probation: technical and direct. A tech is like a dirty urine or failure to report. A direct is a new conviction. Therefore, if you have a new arrest you may not have any violation yet but potentially, you have a direct violation. Some folks argue that the new arrest itself is a technical violation. However, in Philadelphia some people seem to get arrested routinely and never convicted, so the sheer volume of arrests is too great to make this really stick in Philly. However, in the rest of the state, a new arrest is generally viewed as technical violation.

If you have a new arrest, most judges will look to see what your new arrest is for: homicide? possession of marijuana? possession with the intent to deliver? rape? Depending on that new charge, your criminal history, your bench warrant history, and the judge’s own personality, the judge will decide whether to remove the detainer now, or wait until after to outcome of the new case.

We have tremendous success in getting detainers lifted. However, in my opinion, the single most important factor, is the judge’s own personality. The first question I ask a client when they call about a detainer is the judge’s name.

22 Comments on What is a detainer?

  1. My boyfriend violated probation with dirty urine and failed to complete the drug program (because he graduated from school and began working. Schedule conflict) He went to court and the date was postponed until Dec 2. When he went to see his Probation Officer he was placed in jail. He now has a detainer without bail. What are the possible outcomes?

  2. Anonymous // at 12:44 pm // Reply

    Do you have to pay to get a detainer lifted

  3. Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire // at 1:16 pm // Reply

    The last comment was a good question, so I made its own article. See How much does it cost to get a detainer lifted?

  4. Anonymous // at 2:04 am // Reply

    What about a detainer for another state? If someone has been arrested in one state and didnt know there was a warrant in a different state?

  5. Brian Zeiger // at 2:05 am // Reply

    It comes in as a fugitive of justice charge in PA. If your warrant is in Arizona and you get picked up here, you are held on a new charge of fugitive of justice. Its like a new case.

  6. Anonymous // at 6:05 pm // Reply

    Someone that I know, who is on state parole, got arrested almost 2 months ago on the charges of attempted rape and whatever charges go along with that. The case was closed due to the complaining witness not showing up for the preliminary hearing three times. His parole agent said that he put in a recommendation for him and that he has never had any problems with him during his parole. Since the case is closed, and the charges have been withdrawn, what are his chances of getting his detainer lifted? And how long should it take. Note: the case was closed out on a Thursday.

  7. Brian Zeiger // at 6:06 pm // Reply

    They can only hold him for 30 days after the new case is dismissed unless he had technical violations. If he had technicals, they can give him a set back. That decision should be made with 30 days as well.

  8. What happens if you violated probation in one state (by crossing state lines) so you were put into prison and while in prison you were served a detainer from the state you visited while violating probation?

  9. Brian Zeiger // at 8:42 pm // Reply

    In reply to Kim N., you have to wait until you are extradited to the original state in which your were under supervision. The original state doesn't have forever to come and pick you up. The rules are slightly different everywhere so I can't give you an official timeline, though 30, 60 or 90 days seems like the max to me. An example would be if you are on state parole in Pennsylvania, and get picked up in New Jersey. Jersey will hold you for PA to come and get you. I am not certain how long Jersey will wait, but probably, 30, 60 or 90 days.

  10. If a judge denies a motion to lift detainer can you appeal? Can you refile the motion?

  11. Brian Zeiger // at 9:06 pm // Reply

    @Tara, you can try to appeal to the Superior COurt, but the Superior COurt would most likely say the denial of the motion to lift the detainer was not a final order and therefore deny the appeal because it isn't ripe. However, you can file a new motion to lift the detainer whenever you'd like, however, I would wait until there is a change in circumstance before re-filing.

  12. Anonymous // at 9:06 pm // Reply

    My brother has been incarcerated for 21 years, approved for parole but has a detainer from 1992. We are getting the run around, what can we do? He can't be released from SCI coal until the detainer is removed. Please help…

  13. Brian Zeiger // at 9:07 pm // Reply

    @anon, if there is a detainer from 21 years ago, you need to contact the public defender or hire a lawyer from the county in which the detainer exists and file a motion to have the detainer lifted. Also, if it is a detainer from an old probation, you most likely can file another motion to terminate the probation.

  14. Anonymous // at 9:15 pm // Reply

    What is a FOPD hold on a inmate?

  15. Brian Zeiger // at 9:17 pm // Reply

    Not sure what an FOPD hold means. Probably another jurisdiction other then the county has a detainer on the inmate, like federal court or state court. Also, it could be that there is a bail receipt, but the defendant owes money and the county has placed a hold on the bail money being returned to the defendant or the surety after the case is over.

  16. sherell gandy // at 5:16 pm // Reply

    My boyfriend got arrested for failure to appear for a court date. He’s on probation and this is his last year. They put a detainer on him and he hasn’t seen a judge or been arraigned yet and it’s been a week. What’s going to happen?

  17. Allison // at 12:46 pm // Reply

    In erie county parole do you know how long a parole officer has to come pick up a violator from county jail after he’s been sentenced on a new charge? He told me 72 hours but he has yet to be transferred back to state prison.

    • Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire // at 12:42 pm // Reply

      I am not sure I understand your question. If the person is locked up in the county, waiting to go back to state custody for a parole violation, my answer would be different if the person has a new conviction, or if they are being sent back up state for a technical violation.

      If there person has a new conviction, I do not think there is any time limit on when the state has to come and get him, so long as the new conviction is still holding him in the custody.

      If there is no new conviction, I think its generally 30 days to hold him. Though, I think the general practice revolves around the bus schedule. I don’t think its so deep to think someone is making a mistake. Contact back if 30 days passes and he is still in the county.

  18. Kassy // at 4:59 pm // Reply

    Hi my bf and I got into an argument on the day before thanksgiving. he is on probation and they placed him in jail that night. They asked me if it’s ok for him to leave with his mom I said yes. They ask if I wanted to press charges I said no. But my mom was yelling things that he said to me and I told them he never said that. In the report they stated that I told them things that I didn’t say those came from my mother. But she did ask me to write wat happened that night and I did. But nothing that I thought they could lock him up for because he did nothing wat can I do

    • Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire // at 5:29 pm // Reply

      If there is a new case, you can tell the DA exactly what really happened. If they make you testify, you can tell the judge what really happened. If there is no new case, its a technical violation of the probation. If its state, there isn’t much you can do. But, if its county, you can show up at the VOP and tell the judge the truth. Always tell the truth.

  19. Cherae // at 7:25 pm // Reply

    My boyfriend was arrested in 2007, and was released on state parole. During his two year parole he had no problems AT ALL. Him and hos parole officer were on great terms. However, his parole ended Feb 2015. We assumed that he was a free man. Until he was pulled over a few days ago during a routine traffic stop and found out there was a bench warrant out for his arrest because he violated his probation. Come to find out after his state parole ended, he was suppose to contact the county probation office to start his 3 year probation.

    He honestly had no idea about. I believe that it is interesting that his parole ended Feb. 2015, but the warrant wasn’t issued until August 2015. He looks as though as he was no compliant with his entire sentence. his VOP hearing is coming up, but we are all worried that he may not come home.

    I also want to state that during his 2 years of parole and up to today he has been working, and is currently completing his second semester of community college. I just wanted to some expert advice on what the outcome may be.

  20. Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire // at 8:44 pm // Reply

    @Cherae, he should be released again as soon as he gets before the back judge from the county probation tail. If it was a state probation, my answer might change. If he has been compliant the entire time, he should have no issues. I appreciate that he didn’t know, but he was present at the sentencing and I am sure the judge said it to him. The worst that should happen is a new period of probation. Good Luck.

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