If you have recently been arrested and charged with a criminal offense in California you are likely apprehensive about your first court appearance. Unless this is not your first arrest, you may have no idea what to expect from your initial appearance in court. Although every case is unique, there are procedures that tend to be the similar in each criminal prosecution. With a better understanding of what generally happens during your initial appearance you should feel a bit more prepared.
The initial appearance in a criminal case is formally known as an “arraignment”. In California you may actually have two arraignments with the second one taking place after the preliminary hearing. For your initial arraignment, the law requires the arraignment to take place within 48 hours after your arrest if you remain in custody. The 48 hour time period does not include week-ends and holidays though. If you are released on your own recognizance, or you make bail, your arraignment will typically take place several weeks (or longer) after your arrest.
Present at the arraignment will be the judge, court reporter, bailiff, and other court staff as well as the prosecutor, your attorney (if you have hired one) and you. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor (or in some cases a felony) and you have retained counsel you may not be required to appear for the arraignment. Your attorney may appear on your behalf. If you do appear, one of the first things the judge will do at your arraignment is to advise you of your rights and recite the charges against you. You will likely be asked if you understand both your rights and the charges that have been filed against you. The issue is not whether you committed the offense for which you are charged, just whether you understand the charges. You will, however, enter a plea of not guilty at the hearing.
If you do not have an attorney at your arraignment the judge will likely ask you if you plan to hire one and, if so, when you plan to do that. If you cannot afford an attorney the judge will ask you some questions about your finances and may appoint a public defender to represent you. The issue of bail may also be discussed at your arraignment if you are still in custody. Finally, the next court date will be set for your case.
If you have additional questions about what to expect at your arraignment consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney.