If you’ve ever been arrested, you know it can be a stressful and confusing experience. It is especially difficult if it is your first appearance in court where formal charges will be made. However, it is in your best interest to know what to do and what to expect at your first court appearance.
What happens after your arrest?
When you are arrested for a crime in Texas, the police officers take you to jail. You may then post bail as you wait for your first court appearance, also known as an arraignment.
The arraignment process differs depending on whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
In the case of a misdemeanor, the prosecutor will present your defense lawyer with a document listing the charges against you. But if it is a felony case, the prosecutor will present the case before a grand jury to secure an indictment against you.
If the grand jury agrees to indict you, the courts will set a date for your first court hearing.
The process of arraignment: Your first appearance in court
The law requires your first official court appearance to happen within 48 hours of arrest. However, if you are arrested on a public holiday or a weekend, it may take longer.
Usually, if you are bonded from jail, the date of your first appearance in court is written on your surety or personal bond.
During your first court appearance before a judge, expect to receive a list of the charges against you. If you cannot attend your arraignment, your lawyer can do it for you.
Your lawyer will also file a request to access the offense report containing everything in your state file. The evidence may include audio recordings, videos, and witness statements.
You are expected to enter a plea of “not guilty,” “guilty,” or “no contest” during your first court appearance after arrest.
The plea you choose will determine how the case proceeds.
Types of pleas you can enter on your first court appearance
Not guilty plea
A ‘not guilty’ plea means you are not responsible for the crime you are accused of, your case will move to trial.
The state will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed an offense through a jury trial or a bench trial. You may change your “not guilty plea” later, especially if you decide to take a plea deal.
A jury trial is held before a specified number of members of the public who will listen to the evidence for and against you and then give a guilty or not guilty verdict.
In a bench trial, a judge decides your fate after looking at the evidence brought against you.
It’s up to you to choose whether you want a bench or jury trial depending on where you expect to get a favorable outcome.
If you want a bench trial, write to the courts to inform them of your decision. It is essential because you are entitled to a jury trial. Therefore if you waive your right to a jury trial, the courts will require written evidence.
If you plead guilty to the charges brought against you, your case will proceed to the sentencing phase.
No contest plea
A no-contest plea means you do not admit to the crime you are accused of but will accept punishment for it.
The courts may sentence you to time in prison, fines, and or community service for the crime. A no-contest plea can expose you to a civil suit in the future.
In some cases, the judge or prosecutor will offer you a plea deal that you can accept or refuse.
Plea deals are your chance to ask for a lenient sentence. You may have to provide evidence against your partners in crime to get such an offer.
Always discuss a plea deal with your lawyer to understand how it will affect you.
How can your lawyer help you after your first court appearance in a criminal case?
If your case is going to trial, hire a respected and experienced defense lawyer to represent you. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the courts will appoint one who meets their criteria to represent you. However, your chances of success in your court case depend on hiring a lawyer you can trust.
A good lawyer will assist you to prepare for your first court appearance. You can ask important questions such as the date and time and what to wear on your first court appearance.
(We recently did a post giving you 7 tips for a successful court appearance. Please check it out)
The courts will give you other appearance dates after your arraignment. Before that day, your lawyer should review the evidence gathered against you and meet with you to discuss the facts of the case.
How to prepare for first court appearance after posting bail
The way you spend your time before your trial date will depend on whether you posted bail or not. If you pose a flight risk you will not get bail.
If you cannot afford bail, ask your lawyer to formally request the courts for a bail reduction.
Otherwise, pay your bail and await your trial at home. You can meet up with your lawyer and prepare for your case during this time.
Expect your lawyer to investigate the evidence against you. This may include contacting witnesses, visiting the crime scene, and scrutinizing videos or pictures on file.
Your defense lawyer does not investigate your case or peruse your evidence to hurt you. This is done in a bid to prove your innocence or come up with a winning strategy for your criminal trial.
Final thoughts on what to expect at your first court appearance
The courts expect you to behave yourself while waiting for your trial date. If you violate the conditions of your bail as outlined in Texas Penal code § 25.07 and other regulations, your bail can be revoked.
Therefore, abstain from criminal activities, drugs, and other antisocial behaviors before your trial day. Additionally, meet your lawyer and supervising officer often and attend all court appearances on time.