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After the Arrest: Navigating Initial Federal Court Appearances

 

After the Arrest: Navigating Initial Federal Court Appearances

Getting arrested and having to go to federal court can be really stressful and confusing. I want to walk you through what to expect at those first couple court appearances after an arrest, so you have a better idea of what’s going on. This stuff isn’t always intuitive, but knowledge is power, right?

First up is the initial appearance. This usually happens pretty soon after you get arrested – the rules say it has to be “without unnecessary delay”[1]. They’ll bring you before a magistrate judge, who is kind of like the gatekeeper judge in federal court.

At this first appearance, a few key things happen:

  • The charges against you get read out loud so you officially know why you were arrested.
  • You’ll be asked to enter a plea – not guilty, guilty, or no contest (we’ll talk more about pleas later). If you don’t say anything, they’ll just enter a not guilty plea for you.
  • The magistrate judge will decide whether or not to set bail. If you can’t afford a lawyer, the judge will appoint one to represent you for free.

Your second court appearance is called the arraignment. This is where you officially get charged by the grand jury. The U.S. Attorney is the prosecutor who represents the government and brings cases before the grand jury[3].

After the U.S. Attorney presents evidence, the grand jury decides if there’s enough evidence for you to be formally charged and have to stand trial. If they say yes, you get indicted. Then at your arraignment the charges get read and you enter a plea again[3].

The arraignment usually happens within 10 days if you’re held in custody, or within 20 days if you’re out on bail[4].

Here’s some key things about the arraignment:

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Christine Twomey
2024-03-21
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Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
2024-03-18
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2024-03-15
Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
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Taïko Beauty
2024-03-15
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
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2024-03-12
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2024-02-24
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.
  • The charges get read again and you enter a plea again.
  • If you pled not guilty, they’ll start talking about scheduling deadlines and the trial date.
  • If you plead guilty, they’ll set a sentencing date.
  • You can change your plea from the first appearance – it’s not set in stones.

Okay, let’s back up a sec and talk about the different pleas you can enter, because this stuff can get confusing:

  • Not guilty – You deny the charges and want to go to trial. The burden is on the prosecutor to prove your guilt.
  • Guilty – You admit the charges are true and there won’t be a trial.
  • No contest – You don’t admit guilt but agree to be sentenced as if you were guilty. There won’t be a trial.

Most people start off pleading not guilty at that first appearance. You can always change your plea to guilty or no contest later if you want to avoid trial. Lots of cases end in plea agreements. We’ll come back to that.

If you plead not guilty, the next steps are pretrial motions and discovery. This is the phase where your defense lawyer files motions to try to get evidence thrown out or get charges dismissed. They’ll also file requests to get evidence from the prosecutor, like witness statements, documents, etc[2]. This process can take months.

Okay, let’s take a breather. I know that’s a lot of information. The main takeaway is that there are two court appearances right after an arrest – the initial appearance and the arraignment. You’ll hear the charges, enter a plea, and the judge will deal with bail. From there, things either head to trial or plea negotiations.

I want to switch gears and talk about bail. This is the money you or someone else pays to the court so you can be released until your trial. The judge decides at that first appearance if you get let out on bail and how much it will be.

There are options besides just paying the full bail amount. You can also:

  • Pay 10% of the bail to a bondsman and they pay the rest. You don’t get that 10% back.
  • Put up property you own, like a house, as collateral instead of paying.
  • Get released without paying if the judge doesn’t find you a “flight risk.”

If you can’t afford bail, you’ll wait in jail until trial. Some key factors judges consider when setting bail are[5]:

  • Your prior record
  • If you have stable employment/ties to the community
  • If you’re facing serious charges with high sentences
  • If you have a history of not showing up for court before

I know it sucks, but not much you can do if the judge says you have to pay a high bail or stay in jail. An appeal is pretty much your only option at that point.

Alright, I want to switch topics again and talk about plea agreements. A ton of federal cases end up in some kind of plea deal instead of going to trial. The rules are kind of loose on what can be negotiated[2]. Here are some things that might come up:

  • Plead guilty to fewer or less serious charges
  • Agree to a sentencing recommendation, like 3 years probation
  • Cooperate with prosecutors on related cases
  • Pay restitution to victims

There’s a lot of back-and-forth negotiation. Your lawyer is key in getting you the best deal possible. You always have the right to say no to a plea offer and go to trial instead.

Okay, let’s recap the key points:

  • Initial appearance – hear charges, enter plea, bail set
  • Arraignment – hear charges, enter plea again
  • Plead not guilty – head towards trial, motions & discovery
  • Plead guilty – go right to sentencing
  • Bail – pay to get out of jail until trial
  • Plea agreements – negotiate charges and sentence

Whew, that ended up being a lot of information! I know it’s a lot to take in. Let me know if you have any other questions! I’m always happy to help walk through this confusing process. Stay strong!

References

[1] Initial Appearance Rules

[2] DOJ Overview of Criminal Justice Process

[3] US Courts Overview of Criminal Cases

[4] Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure

[5] MA Rules on Bail Factors

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