What Is an Initial Appearance?

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  • Written By: Elise Czajkowski
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 16 January 2020
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After a person is arrested for a criminal offense, the initial appearance is the first time that he or she appears before a judge. It often occurs within hours after the arrest and must happen as soon as possible. This proceeding may also be called an arraignment.

A person charged with a criminal offense in the US has the right to a preliminary hearing to determine whether there were grounds for the arrest. The procedures followed in this hearing may vary depending on the jurisdiction and on the severity of the alleged crime. An individual who has been arrested will generally remain in police custody from the time of the arrest through the time of the initial appearance.

The initial appearance is an important part of the judicial process. It ensures that a person who has been arrested is aware of the crime of which they are accused and of their rights. It also helps avoid the risk of police coercion if he or she is incarcerated for a long period of time before going before a judge.

If the judge at the initial appearance determines that there was no probable cause for the arrest, he or she will release the person from custody immediately. For some minor misdemeanors, the accused, also known as the defendant, may be able to plead guilty at an initial appearance. In these cases, the defendant will often receive a fine or probation and leave without further incarceration.


At an initial appearance, the defendant will be informed of the charges against him or her. The accused will also be told that he or she has the right to remain silent and to consult an attorney. The defendant will be informed that the court will appoint an attorney to represent the defendant if he or she is unable to afford one.

The judge at the initial appearance may allow a defendant to be released from custody on bail. In this case, the defendant gives a certain amount of money to the court. When the defendant returns to court for trial, the money is returned. This gives the accused an incentive to be present for trial. In some cases, an additional hearing may be required for bail to be granted.


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Post 2

I'm glad the legal system has a process in place for an initial court appearance. I'd hate to be arrested for a criminal act and not be able to see a judge as soon as possible. I'd want to know exactly what I was charged with, and I'd want to know if bail or personal recognizance was possible. Just the thought of spending weeks or months behind bars without any official word from the court system would scare me to death, especially if I were falsely accused.

Post 1

What I've noticed over the years is that an initial appearance in a high profile criminal procedure can become a media frenzy. It's the first time a lot of people get to see the accused suspects in a public setting. They haven't had time to change their appearance or consult much with their attorneys. If cameras are allowed in the courtroom, that first court appearance can be very enlightening to viewers.

I remember when the suspect in a mass shooting in Colorado made his initial appearance in court. He still had bright red hair and a scraggly beard, and could barely speak above a whisper. Weeks later, he was clean shaven, wearing a suit and his hair was a normal shade. He looked nothing at all like he did the first time.

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