initial appearance

Legal FAQ: Initial Appearances

FAQ: Initial Appearances

I just received a summons in the mail ordering me to appear in court for an “initial appearance.” What will happen at the “initial appearance?”

initial appearance
Photo by Phil Roeder

The initial appearance is the first step in the process for both a felony and misdemeanor case. At the initial appearance, you will be provided with a copy of the Criminal Complaint. This document lists the charges against you, the maximum possible penalties if you are convicted of those charges, and a summary of the evidence against you.

Once you are provided with a copy of the Criminal Complaint, you will enter a plea of “not guilty” if it is a misdemeanor case. If it is a felony case, the case will be set for a preliminary hearing. The court commissioner will then hear arguments from the prosecutor and the defense attorney regarding the amount of your bail and the conditions of your bail.

It is important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney with you at the initial appearance, because the attorney may be able to get your case dismissed if the Criminal Complaint is not sufficient. A good attorney can probably get you a lower bail amount with less restrictive conditions than you could on your own, because an experienced criminal defense attorney will know what arguments the commissioner will find to be the most persuasive.


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