What to Expect at Your First Court Appearance

June 23, 2023
R.J. Dreiling
Many criminal defendants have no idea what to expect at their first court appearance and it can become a serious problem because what you do at your first court appearance can have an impact on the overall result of your case. The best way to protect yourself and your rights is to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help you prepare for your first court appearance.

The Arraignment

The first court appearance in a criminal case is referred to as an “arraignment” in legal terms. The arraignment is largely an administerial hearing. The court will read the charges against you, ask you whether you understand them, and inform you of your constitutional rights.

Your Plea

Once you have been formally charged by the court, the next step in the arraignment is to ask you how you wish to plead to each offense. Entering your plea is the most critical moment of your arraignment. As a practical matter, many people in this situation chose to plead “not guilty” until their attorney has an opportunity to review the evidence and discuss the next steps.

Pretrial Release

The last issue to be decided at your arraignment is whether or not you will be allowed to go free pending trial. There are three options:
  1. The court could release you “on your own recognizance.” This means that they believe that they can trust you to return to court for your trial.
  2. The court could order you held without bail. This is done when the court believes the defendant is dangerous to society or is a likely flight risk.
  3. The court could set bail. Based on factors such as your criminal record and the severity of the crime, the court will set a bail amount – a bond that you must pay into the court to be held until you return to court.
After entering your plea, this is the second most important aspect of your arraignment. Your freedom leading up to your trial now depends on what the judge decides. An experienced criminal defense attorney can advocate for the appropriate pretrial release.

Your Arraignment Is Not Your Trial

You will not be expected to introduce evidence, testify, or call witnesses. In fact, you may be prohibited from speaking or doing anything unless specifically directed to by the judge.

You Are Entitled to Be Represented by Counsel

You have a constitutional right to be represented by counsel at your arraignment. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor offense, your lawyer can go in your place. However, you must appear along with your lawyer if you have been charged with a felony.

Charged with a Crime? Contact Dreiling Law APC Today

If you have been charged with a crime, we can help you get a fair outcome at your arraignment. Call or email us to schedule a consultation.