What is a First Appearance?

When someone finds themselves in the unfortunate situation of having criminal charges, typically they are either arrested by law enforcement or they turn themselves in. Clients that are arrested are typically given a bond by a criminal magistrate. After going in front of a magistrate, next the person will go in front of a district court judge via a first appearance. In terms of the type of bond a person can receive, a person can receive the following:

  1. What is a Written Promise to Appear? A Written Promise to Appear is when you quote, unquote sign yourself out. This means the magistrate either didn’t feel you were any sort of a flight risk or a danger to the community. The charges typically are fairly minor for a written promise to appear, which means you sign your release order stating you promise to appear on your next court date.
  2. What is an Unsecured Bond? An Unsecured Bond is a Bond that is put in place in a case a person were to miss court. For instance if you receive a $10,000 unsecured bond, this means you are released without having to pay a bond or a bondsman. If, however, you miss court, then an Order for Arrest
  3. What is a Secured Bond? A secured bond is where you can either put up property to cover the full amount of the bond, pay for the bond yourself out of pocket or hire a bondsman to bond you out.

    a) What is a Property Bond? With reference to property bonds, this is based on the equity in your home. If you have a $100,000 home, you’ve paid down $50,000 of the equity portion of your mortgage, then you would have $50,000 worth of equity in your home to put toward the bond. In these situations typically you need to confer with a real estate lawyer to go over how you’d be able to make bond using real estate.

    b) Pay Full Amount – With a secured bond you can pay the full amount of your bond, and as long as you attend all of your court dates and don’t miss any, after your case is resolved, you’ll be able to get your money back. Your putting up the money to Secure your presence in court. For instance, if you have a $10,000 secured bond, and you put the $10,000 toward the bond. You attend all of your court dates, and once your case is closed, as long as you haven’t missed a court date, you’ll be able to get your money back. They will typically give you a green sheet of paper which is your receipt which you present once your case is closed to get your money bank

    c) Bondsman – when hiring a bondsman it’s important to be aware of how it works. A bondsman puts up the money for you and charges you a percentage of the bond. For instance, if you have a $10,000 bond and your hire a bondsman. Let’s say the bondsman charges 15%, then you would pay the bondsman $1500. The Bondsman puts up the rest of the money and they assure your presence in court. If I hire a Bondsman do I get my money back? The difference here is the bondsman doesn’t give you your money back at the end of the case, that’s what they make for Securing your bond. If you miss a court date a bondsman may be liable for a forfeiture and may have to pay the entire bond. Typically, if this happens they will approach you for the money because a Bondsman will typically have someone co-sign on the bond to be liable should you not attend court.

For clients that have unserved warrants, our lawyers in Greensboro, NC, do their very best to get as much information as possible about the nature of the charges they’re facing. There are a couple of important things to note of when it comes to bonds.

What is a firearm hold?

A firearm hold, in Guilford County, NC, is when you have either had a prior firearm or violent criminal conviction in the past 5 years or when you’re out on pre-trial release for a firearm or violent criminal conviction. A firearm hold is when you’re not given a bond amount to pay but rather are placed under a hold because there’s a presumption in favor of you being determined to be a danger to the community.

Recently, our Greensboro attorneys have seen an increase in firearm holds, as the number of firearms being seized has increased, and the number of people who have prior firearm convictions has also increased with the times. It’s important to note, that most magistrates in Greensboro, will give you a firearm hold if you fit either criteria. If we know about this situation ahead of time, our attorney in Greensboro, will advise you that you may end up with the hold and your best prospect for release is at your first appearance.

What is a domestic violence hold?

Domestic violence has changed the way the court system operates with reference to bond procedures. For every other type of misdemeanor, a person will be given a reasonable bond by a magistrate. However, for an assault on a female, simple assault, or any other domestic charge, a magistrate will typically placed you under a domestic hold. A domestic hold can be 24 – 48 Hours, or until you have your first appearance on the charge. At the Greensboro courthouse, we advise our clients to turn themselves in Sunday night because then their domestic first appearance will be at 11:30 AM on Monday, versus the other days of the week when first appearances are at 2 PM.

So, you know, a file is marked domestic when it’s taken out. Most magistrates will put the hold regardless of your opinion of whether or not you’re in a relationship, but strictly on the basis of the fact that the file at the time the person or police officer took out the charge was labeled domestic.

The domestic hold’s intention is to give a person a cool down period. Domestic cases are often complicated by the fact that the couple may still be living together after the charge. The theory is that if a person were able to just go back home, it could result in more violence because they haven’t cooled down yet, and the situation is probably worse after they’ve been confined.

One of the dilemmas our Greensboro lawyers face, is why does a person have a domestic hold if the date of offense was weeks ahead of time. Meaning, if they weren’t served the same day, and later on found out that they had a warrant, does the domestic hold really serve a purpose at that point. Unfortunately, at the Guilford County Courthouse, regardless of when it’s served most magistrates will place you under a hold and leave it up to a district court judge to release set a secured bond or give you a written promise to appear.

How does a First Appearance work?

After a magistrate has set your bond in Guilford County, typically the next business day you’ll have your first appearance. In Greensboro, first appearances are at 2 PM in courtroom 2C. The person who is in custody will not be brought in unless it’s a first degree murder case. All other cases are viewed via video monitor.

When you enter the courtroom, on the left side you will see the bailiff, a district attorney, and a member of the pretrial release program. The bailiff opens court when the judge enters and everyone then stands and sits back down.

As soon as first appearances start, a confined person or inmate, will show up on screen. The judge will hear a brief bit about their charges and give the person the opportunity to speak about their bond. It’s important to note that this isn’t a trial about the case, it’s merely a detention hearing. Some judges will modify bonds at a first appearance. The pretrial release program coordinator sitting next to the district attorney will read off contacts that have been made on their behalf, criminal & mental health history and where the person would reside should they be released.

There is a table to the right side of the DA’s table. If your friend or loved one shows up on screen you are encouraged to sit at that table to speak on their behalf.

What do I say at a first appearance?

Typically, it’s a good idea to bring up the type of person they are, whether they’re working, family, or anything else positive you can describe about your friend or family member. If you hire an attorney they can sit at that table and handle all of the talking for you. Our Greensboro attorneys handle a lot of first appearances. Having a lawyer in Greensboro who is knowledgeable about Guilford County bond guidelines and procedures can make a huge difference in the outcome of the first appearance.

Our law firm represents a lot of drug trafficking, firearm by felon, murder and domestic assault cases. We’re extremely experienced when it comes to assisting people with bonds and navigating hold situations.

Should I hire a Greensboro attorney for a first appearance?

It’s a great question, and unfortunately, the answer is, it depends. It depends on the type of charge, the judge who is in court, how much information the district attorney’s office has on the charge, if there’s a victim, what’s the victim saying now, along with the Greensboro bond guidelines, prior history of the person in jail, along with a number of other factors.

One thing we can say is if you hire our law firm, we will be prepared and do everything in our power to help you with your first appearance, your case, in order to help you with your situation. Our top rated lawyers in Greensboro, NC are here to help and understand the nuances of first appearances and how important they are to your freedom!