The initial stages of a criminal case in federal court can be a confusing and anxiety-producing time for a person who has been arrested.   Here’s an explanation of what a federal criminal arrestee can expect at the beginning of the case.

In general, the initial stages of a federal criminal case typically come in three steps: (1) the arrestee’s initial appearance, (2) a preliminary hearing, and (3) a detention hearing.

This article discusses what an arrestee should expect at the initial appearance.

What is an initial appearance? The initial appearance will be the very first time that a person enters the courtroom after an arrest.  Rule 5(c) of the federal court rules requires that an arrestee be brought before the nearest federal magistrate judge “without unnecessary delay.”

What happens at an initial appearance?   Pursuant to Rule 5(c), the arrestee shall be advised of:

  • The criminal complaint against him or her together with any affidavit supporting the allegations in the complaint.
  • The right to counsel. If the arrestee cannot afford private counsel, the magistrate judge may appoint a public defender or other publicly-funding attorney to represent the arrestee.
  • The general circumstances under which the arrestee may secure pretrial release;
  • The right to remain silent; and
  • The right to a preliminary examination.

How long does the initial appearance hearing last?  The initial appearance is typically very brief, lasting only a few minutes.  As a practical matter, the magistrate judge will decide whether to hold the arrestee in jail until the next hearing date.  The magistrate judge will also schedule the arrestee’s next hearing date.

Will the arrestee be released?  Maybe.  If the prosecutor (referred to as “the government” in federal proceedings) wants the arrestee detained because of the nature of the crime charged and/or the arrestee’s criminal history, the prosecutor will likely ask the magistrate judge to keep the arrestee in custody until trial.  In some cases, however, the prosecutor will not seek to have the arrestee held in custody.   We’ll discuss the process of a detention hearing in a Part 3 of this series.

The time after an initial appearance is critically important for the arrestee to form a strategy for how the arrestee will address the charges.  Our attorneys at Beggs & Lane have decades of experience in representing clients prior to, during, and after initial appearances. Contact us for a consultation.

Beggs & Lane’s White Collar Criminal Defense and Internal Investigations Group is led by former First Assistant United States Attorney David McGee.  The Group includes Gregory R. Miller, a former United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida; Charles T. Wiggins, a Board-Certified Civil Trial Lawyer and former criminal prosecutor with the Office of the State Attorney, First Judicial Circuit of Florida; and Matthew P. Massey, a former Assistant United States Attorney with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.