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What Happens at Initial Court Appearance in a Federal Criminal Case?

What Happens at Initial Court Appearance in a Federal Criminal Case?
Have you recently been arrested for a federal crime, or are you anticipating an arrest soon? Regardless of which of the many federal criminal charges you are facing, the process is generally the same. Knowing what to expect can help you to manage the overwhelming level of stress that you may be feeling at this time. It may also help you to prepare to post bail and to take other essential steps throughout the process. What should you know about your initial court appearance immediately after an arrest?

Prior to Your Arrest
There are two primary paths that can lead to an arrest. A reactive arrest occurs after a violent or aggravated crime takes place. An example would be an immediate arrest after you have robbed a bank. You may be arrested immediately and before authorities go through an in-depth investigation. On the other hand, many arrests are made after an exhaustive investigation has been completed. The investigation leads to an arrest warrant being issued and served. It is important to understand these two primary paths that lead to an arrest of a federal crime because they will impact the substance of an initial court hearing.

At the Initial Proceeding
If your arrest was reactive, you will be brought before a judge or magistrate within 72 hours of your arrest for an initial hearing. At this time, the arresting officers will listen to the facts surrounding your reason for an arrest. He or she will determine if there is sufficient evidence to support the charges to be filed against you.

On the other hand, a lengthy investigative phase before an arrest may culminate into a grand jury hearing. Through a grand jury hearing, the court may decide that sufficient evidence is in place to warrant a subpoena, to compel testimony or to issue various types of search warrants. If the grand jury believes that sufficient evidence has been presented, an indictment of one or more crimes may be issued against the accused. With an indictment, the court has already explored the evidence against the accused and has already determined that evidence is sufficient to charge the individual with a crime. Because of this, an initial hearing after an arrest would not usually rehash these details.

At this time, you will be informed of your right to an attorney, your right to remain silent and other related rights. The charges against you will be formally filed. If you do not have an attorney present and have not waived your right to an attorney, the court will assign a defense attorney to represent you at this time.

The Matter of Pre-Trial Release with Bail
At an initial hearing, the judge will hear arguments from both sides regarding the establishment of bail for a pre-trial release. There are instances when the prosecution will argue against a pretrial release, such as if the defendant is deemed to be a risk to the community or may be a flight risk. Bail means that the defendant is granted pretrial release, and this is typically in exchange for the posting of a bond. Other conditions may also be established, such as forfeiture of the defendant’s passport or other conditions.

While the prosecution and the defense can make arguments related to pretrial release and bail, the judge also obtains relevant information on the matter from the pretrial services department. This department is responsible for creating a recommendation for release or detention as well as conditional items for a recommended release. It takes into account the defendant’s financial situation, employment history, criminal record, community ties and more. The judge will then review the court’s findings along with the arguments to make a final judgment. Keep in mind that this ruling can be amended or altered later if facts related to the case change. If bail is not granted and posted, the defendant will be detained behind bars until after the final outcome of the trial has been determined.

You can see that many important factors are discussed and determined at the initial hearing. The time to prepare for an initial hearing is well before an arrest has been made. This is only possible if the criminal investigation was lengthy and you were aware of it prior to your arrest. Regardless of when you hire your lawyer, it is imperative that you hire a criminal defense attorney who has specific and deep knowledge of relevant case law.

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