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What is a Flight Risk?

By Christina Edwards
Updated: May 16, 2024

A criminal defendant awaiting trial who is considered likely to leave the area to avoid prosecution is considered to be a flight risk. There are several ways that a judge might determine this, including that person's ties to the community and past criminal history. If it is determined that the person may leave the area, a judge will usually release him only after he has paid bail. If it is determined that he is a probable flight risk, he may not be released until he has gone to trial.

Every court is different and so is every defendant. Because of this, determining whether a defendant is a flight risk is done on a case-by-case basis. Typically, for a defendant to be considered a flight risk prosecutors must show that he has no reason to stay around until trial.

A defendant with little or no ties to the area is considered to be more of a flight risk. If he does not work in, live in, or have family in the area or jurisdiction, he will often be considered more likely to flee. A person's ability and opportunity to flee also plays a part in determining this. For example, defendants who are able to get around easily, have the necessary funds to leave the state or the country, and have nothing to keep them in the area are often considered to be very likely to flee.

Past criminal history also plays a role in determining whether a person is a flight risk. Individuals with recent convictions are generally considered more likely to flee. Also, if a defendant failed to appear at past trial dates or fled to avoid prosecution in the past, courts will typically figure that there is a good possibility that he will fail to appear again.

The specific criminal charge and the amount of evidence against a person is also considered. Defendants facing criminal charges with long sentences have more reason to flee the area than others who have been charged with misdemeanors. They would have even more reason to flee if there was an abundance of solid evidence against them.

Many first-time offenders who are charged with misdemeanors are often deemed low flight risks. These defendants are usually released on their own recognizance, meaning that they are released on good faith. They are allowed to leave the custody of the law enforcement officials holding them, on the stipulation that they return for a future court appearance.

If it is determined by the court that a person may possibly flee the area, a judge will usually require him to pay a bail before he can be released. After paying the bail, he can then leave. If he fails to appear at their trial, he loses the money that he paid the court, but if he shows up he will get the money back. Most court systems require that defendants pay a large sum of money to ensure that they return for their court appearances. People with a history of not showing up for court appearances or those who are otherwise considered very likely to flee are often denied the chance to pay this bail, and they must remain in custody until their trial.

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Discussion Comments
By KoiwiGal — On Nov 20, 2014

@MrsPramm - And that's what the judge looks for as well. Remember that it costs the state a lot more to house someone who is still presumed innocent, so they aren't going to want to be holding every single potential criminal in jail awaiting trial for financial reasons as well as compassionate ones.

By MrsPramm — On Nov 19, 2014

@browncoat - Once that might have been true, but I'm not sure if it is these days. Every time you interact with a bank or a credit card or make a purchase that isn't cash, you're leaving a trail. You can't buy anonymously online because you'd need those credit cards to do so. Bus stations and train stations have fairly comprehensive security cameras and there's only so many places you could go. And if you hitch with someone they are definitely going to remember you.

And then you've got to look at it from the side of the person who is escaping. If they are having a trial they probably still have hope they can get away without jail time. If they only did something small, they will only have to serve a few months in jail, as opposed to having to start a whole new life and never being able to contact their family or friends again.

I think people are only really a flight risk when they did something very bad or they have no one to stay for, otherwise most people would prefer to face the music than go on the lam.

By browncoat — On Nov 19, 2014

The idea of someone being a flight risk has always been very interesting to me, because I can't imagine why they would take the risk at all. It seems like, in movies and TV, people who take off when on bail get brought back by bounty hunters almost every time, but how often does that actually happen? I would have thought it was completely easy to run off and never be found as long as you had a basic skill set.

I mean, surely you'd just have to hitch a few rides, or buy a bus ticket under a false name and take off. If you aren't seven feet tall or covered in tattoos, no one is going to look twice at you or remember you.

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