First, and most importantly, it is the responsibility of the accused to be in court on his or her court date. If a person fails to appear when required, it can result in the bail bond being forfeited and a warrant being issued for an arrest. If a person moves or if his or her address is incorrectly listed on the court notice, it is the person’s responsibility to contact the clerk of court with the new address. Staying in touch with your attorney is also very important, because many times the court dates are changed on short notice.
The First Appearance
When a person is arrested, he or she will generally have a “first appearance” before a judge. This generally occurs within 24 hours if he or she is in custody. Many times this “court appearance” will be by video camera from the jail. At this court appearance, the judge will review the officer’s arrest affidavit to determine if there is probable cause to support the arrest. A finding of probable cause does not mean a person is guilty; it simply means that there are sufficient facts for the case to proceed forward. At this first appearance, the judge may also set bond. Many times, a person may not have been allowed to speak with a lawyer before this appearance. If a public defender has been appointed, many times the person’s first contact with him or her is over the TV screen in the presence of the judge and the prosecutor.
Generally, the next court date is the arraignment. The arraignment usually occurs a few weeks after an arrest. At the arraignment, a person is advised of the formal charge against him or her. The court should send written notice advising the date of the arraignment. On some occasions when a person goes to the arraignment, the prosecutor may request that it be reset for a future date. The prosecutor may not have made a decision as to whether or not to go forward. If a person has an attorney, and if the attorney has filed a written plea of not guilty, it may not be necessary for the defendant to attend the arraignment. It is important to always check with the attorney before going to court for arraignment. Never miss a court date.
At the arraignment, the court will set a trial date. Most judges also set a date for what is referred to as a docket sounding or a pretrial conference and in some instances for what is known as a case management conference. This date is usually some weeks prior to the actual trial date. Many judges do not require the accused to attend the pretrial conference or hearing, but some do. Always check with your attorney to see if your presence is required. Judges’ policies are different and it is in your best interest to never, ever miss a court date. Stay in touch with your attorney. You may also be able to confirm your court dates online with the clerk’s office, but most importantly, always stay in touch with your attorney. Do not rely on the court dates you see on the clerk’s page.
Often, cases are continued for various reasons. It may be that the witnesses are unavailable, or attorneys have not completed trial preparation. If the case is continued at the attorney’s request, the defendant is asked to waive speedy trial. In most instances, waiving speedy trial does not hurt your case. Discuss this issue with your attorney. Many times, if the case is going to be disposed of by way of a plea bargain, the court will set what is known as a “plea date.” This will be the day you go before the judge to end the case. Always dress respectfully when coming to court. First impressions make an enormous difference. Dressing or acting disrespectfully in court will hurt your case. Do not come in shorts, flops or some skimpy outfit. Dress like you are going for a job interview.
Going To Trial
Ultimately, if the case is not resolved by either a dismissal or plea negotiation, a trial date is set. Most judges have a one- or two-week trial docket. Generally, the case will be set for trial during that one- or two-week period. Since the judge may have many cases set for trial during that period, it is difficult to predict exactly when each case will be called for trial. When a case is set for trial it is important that you stay in touch with your attorney, since often the court’s schedule changes and the case may either be called early or delayed. If a judge does not reach a particular case during the trial period, it may be reset or rolled over to the court’s next trial docket. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to stay in touch with your attorney. Many attorneys try to return client calls daily. There are rare occasions where attorneys may not be able to get out of court until after business hours. Many attorneys realize that pending criminal charges create anxiety and do their best to promptly return calls.
The key to understanding court dates and the case is communication. Staying in touch with the attorney and the bondsman will help in not missing court, and may help ease your peace of mind.