First Appearance is just that. It is the person's first appearance before a judge after the arrest. The First Appearance Hearing must be within twenty four (24) hours of the arrest, regardless of whether the person was arrested on a warrant or on probable cause. The person must be given an opportunity to confer with counsel. So, what most people don't know is that you have a right to ask the judge to pass your case so you can obtain a criminal defense attorney. You also have the right, if you can obtain a criminal defense attorney before your first appearance, to have that criminal defense attorney represent you at First Appearance.
Most criminal defense lawyers make themselves available at a moments notice to appear at a First Appearance Hearing. So don't assume that you won't be able to retain a criminal lawyer within a few hours or even minutes. Sometimes, the criminal lawyer will already be at court on another matter and they can consult with you or family members over a cell phone, provide you with a cost for their services and obtain payment, all over the phone and/or online.
Do not plead guilty or no contest at First Appearance Court without first talking to a criminal defense attorney. You wouldn't buy a new house in a matter of moments, would you? You wouldn't decide to have a serious surgery within minutes if you could take your time to think about it. To talk to your family. To talk to the doctors. Why would you make a split decision about a criminal charge that can negatively affect the rest of your life.
You have a right to plead not guilty and have your case passed. You have a right to talk to a criminal lawyer. You don't even have to hire a private attorney, if you can't afford one. But you should at least contact criminal attorneys and have a free consultation to find out what you don't know, before you make one of the most important decisions of your life.
What happens at First Appearance?
At First Appearance, the judge shall:
- inform you of the charges,
- provide you with a copy of the complaint,
- advise you that anything you say can be used against you,
- advise you that you have the right to an attorney and if you can't afford one, an attorney will be appointed for you,
- advise you that you have a right to communicate with your attorney, family or friends,
- appoint an attorney, if you can't afford one,
- postpone first appearance if you inform the judge you intend to hire an attorney and want that attorney for the first appearance.
What really happens at First Appearance court?
So that's the law, but what really happens at First Appearance. In the real world, there are too many people and there is not enough time to give each person a lot of time to be heard at their first appearance. So, at least in Jacksonville, Florida, each case typically lasts only a few minutes, if that. The judge will usually quickly make a probable cause determination based solely on the information in the arrest and booking report, will set your bond and will move on to the next case. Sometimes, the judge will make an offer and you will have only a matter of moments to make a decision that can affect the rest of your life. We've had many potential clients come in after pleading guilty at First Appearance and ask if they can withdraw their plea after they had time to reflect on what happened in court. This usually is not possible. So the moral of the story is - don't plead guilty at first appearance court without consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
After First Appearance and after probable cause is determined and bond is set, the case will be passed for arraignment.