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What Can I Expect at First Court Appearance in a Criminal Case?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ. | Jan 28, 2022

If you've been arrested and charged with a crime, you've either posted bail or been cited out with a ticket to appear in court. You must get a criminal defense attorney right away, so you have an idea of what you're facing at the initial appearance.

First, what's typically going to happen is your attorney will either continue the arraignment, which is the first court date or enter a not-guilty plea on your behalf and set a new court date.

Another thing that will happen at your initial appearance is the judge will set bail.  So, let's say you were arrested, and the police had you post a $25,000 bail.

Suppose the prosecutors file a charge that requires a bail higher than $25,000.00. In that case, they can make the argument at your initial appearance that you should be taken into custody and have to either post the higher bail or remain in custody while your case is pending.

First Court Appearance in a Criminal Case

This is why it is crucial to have an attorney at the initial appearance representing you, fighting for you, and making sure that you are treated fairly.  You don't want to have your bail raised and be taken into custody.

Also, a lot of times, what happens is the police will arrest you and book you for one charge, and then they will change their mind and file a different charge against you.

That's one of the reasons that a higher bail can be required.  Also, if your case is a serious or particular type of case, the prosecutors may assign a special prosecutor to deal with your case.

That would typically be done at the initial appearance, so we would have to wait for that prosecutor to come and deal with the case. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will review further below.

Arraignment Process in California Criminal Courts

In a California criminal case, the first court appearance by the defendant is usually an arraignment. Several steps will be taken at the arraignment, which a defendant should know.

The arraignment is the first stage of court proceedings and a defendant's first appearance before a judge. At the hearing, they will be told of the criminal charges that have been filed against them and asked to enter a plea.

Defendants will be provided with a copy of the criminal complaint and police reports. Next, the issue of bail can be argued before the judge. If the defendant enters a “not guilty” plea, the judge will schedule a future court date. If charged with a misdemeanor crime, the judge will set a pretrial date.

If charged with a felony offense, the case will be set for a preliminary hearing, or it could be sent to an early disposition court to resolve the case.

For a felony case, two different arraignments could occur. The first arraignment takes place after the criminal charges have been filed.

The second will occur after the preliminary hearing if the defendant is held to answer the criminal charges, which almost always happens.

How Long Can I Be Held in Custody After Arrest?

After someone is arrested for a crime, they can't be held in custody for more than 48 hours without going to court, not including weekends or holidays.

After an arrest, a defendant could be released by law enforcement and given a later court date to appear, or they could post bail. If they are required to post bond, they will be given a future court date to appear.

On felony charges, defendants must personally appear in court for their arraignment. On misdemeanor charges, defendants can make the court appearance on their behalf under California Penal Code 977(a) PC.

What is the Importance of an Arraignment?

The primary purpose of an arraignment is so the defendant can enter their initial plea to the charges against them. Before this, however, the California criminal court has to tell the defendant of the charges against them and their legal rights, including constitutional rights and statutory rights such as armed services and veteran's rights.

Arraignment Process in California Criminal Courts

In most criminal cases, defendants will waive the formal reading of these items to speed up the process because their lawyer has already given them all this information before the arraignment hearing.

Defendants have three options at the arraignment in terms of an initial plea. These options include “not guilty,” “guilty,” or “demur.” The most common plea is a not guilty plea.

After entering a not guilty plea, the judge will set the matter for a pretrial hearing or an early disposition conference in a misdemeanor case.

As noted above, in the case of a felony, the court will set the matter for a preliminary hearing setting date or an early disposition conference.

Entering a not guilty plea at arraignment is usually required to receive additional discovery beyond the police reports that the prosecutor gave at the arraignment.  Put simply, many District Attorney's Offices will not process any discovery requests until after arraignment.

Why Do I Need an Attorney at Arraignment?

So, there's a whole host of things that can happen at that initial appearance.  You want to hire an attorney before the initial impression.  Don't just leave things to chance.

Let your criminal defense attorney make the right moves regarding bail, your charges, which direction your case will take, which court will you be put in, which judge you will be dealing with, what prosecutor will be handling your case, how will the case be handled?

These are all questions that will be discussed, thought about, and planned when it comes to your initial court appearance. If you want the best if you're charged with a criminal case, pick up the phone.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.  I stand ready to help you.

Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles County, and we serve people throughout Southern California, including Orange County, Ventura County, Riverside, Santa Barbara, and San Bernardino. We offer a free case consultation. by calling (213) 542-0979.

About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ.

Ronald D. Hedding, Esq., is the founding member of the Hedding Law Firm. Mr. Hedding has an extensive well-rounded legal background in the area of Criminal Law. He has worked for the District Attorney's Office, a Superior Court Judge, and as the guiding force behind the Hedding Law Firm. His multi-faceted experience sets Mr. Hedding apart and puts him in an elite group of the best Criminal Defense Attorneys in Southern California.