Once you’ve been convicted of a crime in North Carolina, the court procedure begins. At your initial court appearance, you will have the opportunity to state your case and make your first impression on the court. In advance of your first visit to North Carolina, this is what you should know.
What is a first appearance?
All defendants charged with a misdemeanor where the court has the original say are entitled to a first appearance. An initial appearance can be continued, but not waived. Since this hearing is a crucial part of your constitutional rights as a defendant, you must show up. However, it is allowed for the defendant’s attorney to show up on their behalf.
At the initial hearing, the court will establish a schedule and other procedural specifics that will make your case go more smoothly moving forward. The judge will make sure that the defendant is properly charged, has been informed of his or her rights, and has access to legal representation. The first appearance is also the time when future hearings are planned.
Typically held within a couple of days of the arrest, the initial appearance must be held within 96 hours of the arrest. If the accused was previously held and later released, or if they were never brought into custody at all, the statute of limitations does not apply.
What occurs at the first appearance?
The judge will take a cursory look at the arrest and charging documents at the first appearance to make sure the defendant is ready to proceed with the case and that the charges are proper and without defect. This includes informing the defendant of his or her privilege against self-incrimination, assuring the defendant of his or her right to counsel, reviewing the charges and making sure the defendant understands and has a copy of them, informing the prosecutor of any defective or improper charges, and reviewing or setting pretrial release conditions. Finally, the judge will schedule the probable cause hearing as the following stage in the case, to occur within 15 days after the first appearance.
What if my rights were violated at the first appearance?
Generally, the failure to hold a first appearance hearing or to follow legal procedures does not undermine the validity of the trial. However, this may change if the defendant is able to demonstrate that his or her constitutional rights were violated as a result of a flawed first appearance hearing. If you are being charged with a crime, you have certain legal protections. As soon as you get arrested, you need a criminal defense attorney on your side, fighting to safeguard your rights to guarantee you receive a fair and just trial.
The first court appearance in a criminal prosecution is a pivotal moment
At the first appearance in a North Carolina court, the defendant is formally charged with the offense for which they are being held, given the opportunity to request assigned counsel, and the defendant’s pre-trial release is set by the judge. An initial court appearance must take place no later than 96 hours following the defendant’s arrest. Most defendants in court do not have legal representation during their initial appearance.
According to the law, the defendant has no right to have an attorney at the initial appearance because it is deemed a “non-critical” stage of the case. So, the legislation states that the government can refuse to give legal representation to anyone who hasn’t already done so on their own. The defendant’s custody situation while awaiting trial might be pivotal to the result of the case, making the first appearance a significant point. If the District Court judge, relying heavily on information provided by the District Attorney, sets or maintains bail so high that the Defendant and his or her family cannot afford it, the Defendant will remain in jail until either they reach a plea agreement that results in their release (and usually probation) or the case is resolved through trial (which can take several months, depending on the case.)
Time is on the side of a defendant who is not in jail. Time to consult with their attorney and aid in the development of their defense, time to ensure that all relevant evidence is collected and analyzed, and most importantly, time to weigh the pros and cons of accepting a plea bargain versus demanding that the State prove its case. A defendant behind bars does not have that luxury, and many unprovable cases conclude in a guilty plea so the defendant can be released. It’s unfortunate that people are making such significant choices based on the immediate desire to avoid jail time rather than considering the long-term consequences.
If you have a lawyer with you during your initial court appearance, you may be able to get your bond reduced or waived completely.
How We Can Be of Service
The criminal justice system relies heavily on initial court appearances. As soon as possible after your arrest, you’ll appear in court, where a judge will decide whether to detain you without bond, place you under a firearm hold or a domestic hold, or release you. The first appearance will be the following business day if the bond the magistrate sets is too high for you to post. If you’re facing charges and need to make your initial court appearance in Greensboro, NC, contact one of our top-rated attorneys. If you don’t have a lawyer for your first court appearance, addressing bond may not come up again until you file a bond motion. The issue about this is that it takes time, which is why we advise getting in touch with our Greensboro, NC first appearance attorneys as soon as you can so that we can begin attacking the problems and working toward your release as soon as possible. Click here if you want to read up more on what we do: https://www.garrettandwalker.com/