Rule 3.130 covers the first appearance in a criminal case. This step in the criminal procedure is where the defendant is served with the charges that have been against them. First appearances take place in front of a judge who determines bail and sentencing. This step can seem insignificant compared to other aspects of the case, but what happens at a first appearance can affect the rest of the criminal proceedings, so it’s important to take it seriously.
When you are formally charged, you are entitled to an attorney. The magistrate, or judge, will decide to give you a counselor if you can’t afford an attorney. More often than not, the counselor is a public defender. You have to agree to have a counselor before the court can give you one.
Legal counsel can make or break the case. Because first appearances involve an initial reading of the charges against you, charge-specific public defenders may not be qualified to defend you if other charges are added to your case. Without proper defense, you may receive a sentence that could have been minimized or adjusted by a more qualified attorney.
Another critical step in the first appearance process is setting bail. The amount is either set before the first appearance using a standard schedule or by the judge who signed the arrest warrant. However, some crimes do not get bail.
Non-bailable crimes include:
- Armed burglary
- Some sexual battery crimes
For those who have been arrested for one of the offenses listed above, an attorney is vitally important. A skilled lawyer can argue for the judge to set a bail amount. There is no guarantee that you will receive bail, but an attorney can help shift the proceedings in your favor.
Once bail is set, the only way it can change is if there is new evidence or charges that were not part of the first appearance. For instance, if the charges against a defendant are more severe after the first appearance, the judge may increase the amount. In some cases, evidence may increase the severity of the crime and your bail amount.
Sometimes, the judge makes an error in setting bail. When this happens, an attorney can argue for the original bail amount if the judge has increased it.
Another step in the first appearance process is determining if there is probable cause to hold the defendant in police custody. Also, law enforcement cannot arrest you or search your property without probable cause.
In Florida, if you are in custody and there is adequate proof for probable cause, the judge is expected to decide your case within 48 hours of your arrest.
For misdemeanor cases, the defendant must understand the risks of a guilty plea. It can be tempting to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge in order to move on quickly, but keep in mind that doing so will go on your permanent record.
Your record matters. One of the main requirements for employment is a background check. Unfortunately, people with criminal convictions are treated differently, even if the convictions are misdemeanors. Employment is difficult for those with criminal charges on record. Removing convictions from your record is tricky and only applies to some crimes.
The best strategy for pleas in court is to consult with an attorney. A lawyer can help you understand the ins and outs of your case. Getting arrested doesn’t mean that there is no hope for your case. A lot can happen in a first appearance that can affect the outcome of your case. The right attorney can fight for you every step of the way.
Contact the Hoffman Firm to schedule a free consultation.