What to expect at a first court appearance
What is a first appearance?
A first appearance is where the court informs the person being accused of the charge(s) against them, what the person’s rights are, and it is the first time the person being accused may enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty. This is also when the court sets bail and conditions of release.
What actually happens at the first appearance?
First, the accused will be informed of their rights. These rights are listed here under Rule 5.03. These rights include the right to remain silent, the right to counsel, and the right to a jury trial. There are other rights listed as well, so make sure to click the link for the full list.
Because all of the accused do not have to be told their rights individually, the court may tell many people their rights at the same time. However, the court must confirm each person’s understanding individually.
You have the right to an attorney at a first appearance.
Every person being accused has a right to counsel (an attorney). That means that if the person cannot afford an attorney then the court will appoint a public defender. The court does not have to appoint a public defender if the person accused can afford private counsel but chooses not to do so.
If the person being accused at first does not request counsel, but later changes their mind, they can decide to request counsel at any point in the proceedings. Also, if the person decides to waive their right to counsel, they can still be given “Advisory Counsel.” Then, if the person accused becomes too disruptive during the proceedings, then that can be considered a waiver of the right to self-representation.
What happens if the defendant enters a plea?
In some cases, defendants cannot enter a plea at the first appearance. Generally, it is not recommended that the defendant plead guilty at the first appearance.
If the person accused enters a plea of not guilty, then the person is given the option to waive or exercise the right to a jury trial. If the defendant does neither, then a demand for a jury trial will be entered into the record.
Tips for attending a first appearance:
- Consult with an attorney beforehand
- Be on time
- Dress professionally
- Be respectful