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In this answer to my Politics SE question *Is former president Trump "out on bail" as Chris Christie asserts? If so, were campaign funds used? which ends:

Bail is a particular type of bond in which the defendant submits an upfront payment that will be held until he returns to court, but there's no indication Trump was asked to post bail.

there is a discussion about what "but there's no indication" means, including:

Isn't posting bail generally a matter of public knowledge? We often hear about person X was released wrt case Y for Z amount of money. Which would bolster this answer.

and

Generally yes, it's disclosed to the public. I just don't know if it's legally required to be disclosed, or whether the judge has discretion. Law is weird...

Chuckles that Politics SE would think Law is weird aside, this has piqued my curiosity.

Christie is a former US attorney with extensive experience in arraignments for corruption and similar crimes, and would be keenly aware of the difference between bond and bail. Further, the "out on bail" statement was made on national television amidst a discussion on truth and honesty in politics.

And yet I can't tell if the "out on bail" assertion is true, false, or currently unknowable with any certainty.

Question: Can defendants arraigned in federal court sometimes be "out on bail" secretly with no way for the public to know about or verify the bail?

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    @uhoh 99.99% of court orders nobody "tells anybody" because nobody cares, other than the parties. But unless it's under seal, somebody can go to the clerk of the court and request a copy of the order. Further, unless the proceedings are closed, the public and media can go to the courtroom and listen to the decision: see Sixth Amendment.
    – user71659
    Aug 13, 2023 at 20:22
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    @uhoh for the details to remain secret, the court has to order that they remain secret. This might be done in response to a mutual request from the parties or it might be done for some other reason. Furthermore, a request being jointly made by both parties does not guarantee that the court will grant the request.
    – phoog
    Aug 13, 2023 at 21:30
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    Why would Trump need to post bail? He's got a group of police officers following him around at all times, who presumably would ensure he shows up in court if called upon to do so.
    – Mark
    Aug 15, 2023 at 2:28
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    @Mark an interesting question: would a Secret Service security detail execute a federal arrest warrant for the person they're protecting? What would happen in the case of a state warrant?
    – phoog
    Aug 15, 2023 at 9:04

2 Answers 2

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It would be an extraordinary circumstance for a defendant to be out on bail or bond without that fact being part of the public record.

In general, the public has access to court records under both the First Amendment and under the common-law right of access to judicial records, and it is difficult for a party or a court to justify removing that access.

That right applies to bail records, as well, as we saw in the George Santos case.

There, Santos was bailed out by family members, and he sought to have the bail records placed sealed to protect his family from harassment. The court granted that request, but reversed after news organizations objected and demanded access.

The court reviewing those motions didn't admit that sealing those records was wrong, but it did hold that because the concerns of harassment were purely speculative, the high-profile nature of the case, the specific concerns raised about the possibility of Santos exchanging official acts for bail money, and the House Ethics Committee's interest in the records demonstrated that any interest in having the records sealed was outweighed by the public interest in disclosure.

More practically, though, it would be difficult to conceal the fact of bail, as the fact that a defendant is walking around after an indictment would be a pretty good indicator that bail was granted.

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    The question isn't about knowing whether the defendant was released; it is about knowing the terms of that release, in particular whether there was any money involved ("Bail is a particular type of bond in which the defendant submits an upfront payment that will be held until he returns to court, but there's no indication Trump was asked to post bail").
    – phoog
    Aug 13, 2023 at 21:35
  • Yes, I think that's all information that would be covered in the records I discussed accessing.
    – bdb484
    Aug 13, 2023 at 22:21
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    "...as the fact that a defendant is walking around after an indictment would be a pretty good indicator that bail was granted." Is that really correct as written? Isn't there something like being "released on personal recognizance" where one does not post any bail (money or things of monetary value) but agrees to certain behavioral restrictions? c.f. the answer I linked to in my question
    – uhoh
    Aug 13, 2023 at 22:53
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    ...which discusses being released on bond and that "Bond means that Trump signed a document promising to return to court, which may or may not have involved a lien on property or obligation to pay if he fails to appear."
    – uhoh
    Aug 13, 2023 at 22:55
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    If we're using "out on bail" in the loose sense that Christie was using in your example, then yes. Using the proper definition, you're right that a defendant could just as well (and perhaps more likely) be out on bond instead.
    – bdb484
    Aug 14, 2023 at 1:32
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Here is one of the three Trump appearance bonds. As you can see, it is a personal recognizance bond, and not a dollar amount bond. He promises to appear, as required, and there is no money involved. There is a direct indication that he was not required to "post bail", which is a stronger statement that "no indication that he was".

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    Christie's quote in my linked question is: "He is now out on bail in three different jurisdictions, New York, Florida and Washington." In the interest of not being misleading, could you perhaps change "the Trump appearance bond" to something like "one example of the three Trump appearance bonds to date" and explain why you feel it sufficiently represents the other two? Thanks! ("My client can not possibly be a bank robber - just last week she was at a bank and she didn't rob it.")
    – uhoh
    Aug 13, 2023 at 23:59
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    This is an answer to the Politics question. This question is more general, and was merely prompted by Chrstie's misstatement about Trump.
    – Barmar
    Aug 14, 2023 at 15:18
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    Although this answer helps to clarify the (apparent) misunderstanding in the back story, IMO it does not answer the question posed: "Can defendants arraigned in federal court sometimes be "out on bail" secretly with no way for the public to know about or verify the bail?".
    – user35069
    Aug 15, 2023 at 7:19

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