You may be more familiar with another term for an initial appearance – an arraignment. The initial appearance is exactly what its name implies – it is your first time in front of a judge in your criminal case.
You Will Be Informed of the Charges
As the defendant in a criminal case, you have the right to learn of the charges against you. The charges will be detailed during your first time in court. At that time, the government will file a criminal complaint that describes the charges and their basis in writing.
The Defendant Enters a Plea
Then, you must enter a plea in response to the charges against you. Although doing so seems like a formality, your actual plea is critical. If you plead guilty, there will be no need for the prosecution to prove the charges. Then, you will be set for sentencing as a result of your guilty plea. In reality, a defendant will plead not guilty at the initial appearance no matter what because it preserves your attorney’s ability to fight the charges or get something valuable from the prosecution, such as a reduced sentence, in plea bargain negotiations.
The Judge Will Consider Bail and Its Terms
In a Wisconsin case, one of the most important things that will happen at an initial appearance is that the judge will decide whether to set bail and the amount. Bail is the money that you deposit with the court to ensure your future appearance at trial. If you do not show up for trial as required, you will forfeit the bail that you paid.
The court may deny bail based on a number of factors, including:
- The possibility that you may attempt to flee
- The degree of seriousness of the charges
- Your prior criminal record
- Your prior record of showing up for trial in any previous criminal case
- How the defendant behaves in court during the preliminary hearing
The Judge Will Set a Bail Amount (If Any)
The amount of bail is also a serious issue. Even if you do not put up the money yourself, it costs money to get a bail bond. If the amount of bail is set too high, you and your family may be unable to afford bail, and you can be forced to remain in jail while you await trial. Not only does bail mean your freedom, but it is also far more difficult to mount a criminal defense in your case when you are behind bars.
The court will decide on the type of bail necessary in your case, which can include:
- A cash bond is used when someone needs to post money on your behalf to get you out of jail. Most likely, you are familiar with this bond based on your own personal knowledge of the criminal justice system.
- With a signature bond, you agree to a contract with the state that does not require you to put up any money to be released. However, if you violate the conditions of your bond, it may be revoked, and you may be returned to jail.
If you have been charged with a felony, chances are that you will need to put up a cash bond. If the judge allows a bond, the amount of money that you must deposit depends on many factors. There are some limits on the judge’s discretion to set bail because it involves your freedom.
Why You Should Have a Lawyer at Your Initial Appearance
You do not want to be unrepresented at this point in the case because it can decide your very freedom. Your lawyer can speak in your favor when the judge is considering bail. Otherwise, you may not have a say when the judge is making a crucial decision. Your attorney will:
- Argue that bail should be set in your case.
- Try to persuade the judge to allow a signature bond when possible.
- Present your situation to the court for the judge to consider when they are setting conditions of bail.
- Advocate for a lower amount of cash bail if the judge requires it.
In addition, you will learn who the judge assigned to your case is at the initial appearance. Although the initial appearance is mostly procedural, your attorney may know of the judge and have experience with them from other cases.
In Wisconsin, a criminal defendant has the right of substitution. Once you learn of the judge, you can ask for a new judge in your case without even needing to give specific grounds for the request. Although you do not get to choose the judge, you have some say in who will preside over your case through your right of substitution. However, you have ten days from the time of the initial appearance to place a request to change judges in your case. For this reason, you should have an attorney at the time of your initial appearance. Your attorney will advise you whether it will be in your best interests to seek a new judge.
In addition, your attorney will advise you on what to say at your initial appearance. The judge is forming their initial impression of you, and you should stick to just entering a plea and directly answering the questions asked by the judge. Otherwise, you can jeopardize your case and especially your ability to receive bail.
Contact an Appleton Criminal Defense Attorney Today
You should contact an attorney immediately after you have been arrested so they are working on your case by the time of your initial appearance. The lawyers at Hogan Eickhoff are available to you at all times, ready to get to work fighting for your legal rights. The longer you wait to call a lawyer, the more of a risk you take of making a mistake that can harm your case. To speak with a lawyer, you can contact us at (920) 450-9800 or to schedule a free consultation. We are standing by and ready to help.