A Former Prosecutor Defending Clients in Wyoming and South Dakota
Being arrested and charged with a crime can feel scary. If this is your first time in court, you may have questions about what to expect at your initial appearance.
At Just Criminal Law, our team of criminal defense professionals is here to answer your questions, offer support, and be by your side from your initial court appearance through plea negotiations and, if necessary, at trial.
When you were arrested you were taken to jail where your personal belongings, such as a wallet or purse, keys, and cell phone were confiscated. Police officers took photographs and fingerprints, and you were required to stay in a cell until someone posted bail, you received a visit from your lawyer, or until your initial court appearance.
If you posted bail and were released, you received a court date. This is your initial appearance.
The initial appearance serves two purposes. The first is to prevent law enforcement from holding people for too long before informing them of the charges against them and their constitutional rights. The second is so you can learn of the charges against you, your constitutional rights and, in some cases, enter a plea.
If you were charged with a misdemeanor, your initial appearance will be combined with a probable cause hearing, where the judge reviews the evidence to determine whether the arrest was supported by probable cause. If the judge decides there was not enough evidence to support an arrest, you will be released and the charges against you will be dropped. If the judge finds there was probable cause to support your arrest, you will be advised of your constitutional rights and will be asked to enter a plea.
If you were charged with a felony, you will not enter a plea at your initial appearance. Instead, the judge will set bail and your case will be scheduled for a preliminary hearing. The judge will also impose other non-monetary conditions of bail, such as a No Contact Order with the alleged victim and in many cases a prohibition from driving and from using drugs or alcohol. Your case will be “bound over” for a preliminary hearing, where you will enter a plea and your case will be set for trial.
The U.S. Constitution requires that your initial appearance in court must occur quickly after you were arrested. In many cases, the initial appearance occurs on the next day that the court is open. However, each case is different and the circumstances of each arrest and investigation will determine what constitutes “unnecessary delay.”
If you were held too long, you may have a valid complaint. If your lawyer can successfully challenge the amount of time between your arrest and your initial appearance, the judge might suppress evidence that was obtained during the delay. This usually takes the form of excluding evidence that was obtained during an interrogation.
While you do not need an attorney at your initial appearance, if you have been charged with a crime, you should hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. The earlier an attorney can get to work on your case, the better.
If you do not have an attorney with you at your initial appearance, the judge will ask if you have an attorney and whether you can afford one.
When your case is called, you will be asked to walk to a microphone in front of the judge. The charges will be read aloud. The judge will ask if you understand the charges against you, if you have an attorney, and whether you can afford an attorney. You will be advised of your constitutional rights and, in non-felony cases, the judge will ask how you plead.
If you plead guilty, your case will be set for sentencing. However, if you plan to contest the charges against you, you should enter a plea of Not Guilty. Your case will be set for a pre-trial, and your lawyer will have a chance to investigate the case against you, challenge the evidence, and either negotiate a favorable plea deal or take your case to trial.
Your initial court appearance is usually very brief (less than 10 minutes). The judge will notify you of the charges against you and the maximum possible penalty for each charge if you are convicted. The judge will also review the facts stated in the complaint to make a probable cause determination. This means the judge will review the complaint to ensure that what the police and the prosecutor allege to have happened show that the defendant probably committed the offenses charged.
If you do not have an attorney, the judge will advise you of your right to counsel.
If you were released on bond before your initial appearance, it is critically important that you appear in court. If you fail to appear you will forfeit the bond money you posted, and the judge will issue a warrant for your arrest. If you are caught, it is almost certain that the judge will not release you on bond. And if you are eligible to be released on bond, the bond amount will be extremely high.
If you have been charged with a crime in Wyoming, you should hire a team of experienced criminal defense professionals as quickly as possible. At Just Criminal Law, we will fight to protect your rights and minimize the effects of a criminal conviction.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is offered for educational purposes only. This information is not offered as legal advice. A person accused of a crime should always consult with an attorney before making decisions that have legal consequences.