Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What is a detainer?

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.

By Brian J. Zeiger


  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. Do you have to pay to get a detainer lifted

  3. 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?

  4. 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.