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Last Updated on: 3rd November 2023, 07:12 pm
What Should I Expect at a First Appearance Hearing in St. Petersburg?
Getting arrested can be a scary and overwhelming experience. You may have a lot of questions about what happens next and what to expect at your first court appearance, known as the “first appearance hearing.” This article will walk you through the first appearance process step-by-step so you know what to anticipate.
What is a First Appearance Hearing?
A first appearance hearing, also called an initial appearance or an advisory hearing, is typically the first time you go before a judge after being arrested . The hearing must be held within 24 hours of your arrest . The purpose is for the judge to:
- Inform you of the charges against you
- Advise you of your rights
- Determine whether probable cause exists for your detention
- Consider whether to release you on your own recognizance or set bail
The first appearance hearing is not when you enter a plea or go to trial. It’s simply a chance for you to be made aware of the charges and for a judge to decide if you can be released pending further court proceedings.
When and Where Do First Appearances Occur?
In St. Petersburg, first appearance hearings are held at the Pinellas County Justice Center. They occur every day of the week, 365 days a year . The chief judge designates judicial officers to be available for first appearances .
As mentioned above, the hearing must happen within 24 hours of your arrest. So if you are arrested on a Friday night, your first appearance will likely be the next morning on Saturday. The court makes an effort to hold first appearances promptly because your freedom is at stake.
What Happens During a First Appearance Hearing?
Here is a step-by-step overview of what you can expect during your first appearance hearing in St. Petersburg:
- You are brought before the judge: You will be escorted into the courtroom by law enforcement. For security reasons, you may be restrained in handcuffs or shackles.
- The charges against you are read: The judge will read the formal charges that have been filed against you.
- You are advised of your rights: The judge will explain your constitutional rights, such as your right to remain silent and to have an attorney present during questioning.
- The judge considers bail: The judge will decide whether to release you on your own recognizance or set bail. Factors considered include the seriousness of the charges, your criminal history, and your ties to the community.
- A future court date is scheduled: If you are not in custody, the judge will schedule your arraignment hearing, which is your next court appearance.
While this covers the basic process, some other things that may occur include:
- The prosecutor can announce additional charges not listed in the arrest report.
- You may be asked to enter a plea, although typically the arraignment is when pleas are entered.
- The public defender may be appointed if you cannot afford a lawyer.
- Conditions of release may be set, such as pretrial supervision.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Hearing
Even though first appearance hearings are typically brief, it is in your best interest to get the most out of it that you can. Here are some tips:
- Remain silent and only speak to the judge when asked a direct question.
- Be polite and respectful to the judge.
- Ask to have a public defender appointed if you cannot afford a lawyer.
- Do not try to tell your whole story; save it for your lawyer.
- If given a chance, request reasonable bail or release on your own recognizance.
- Get the contact information for your appointed lawyer or hire a criminal defense attorney immediately.
- Write down your next court date so you don’t miss it.
Having an experienced criminal defense lawyer represent you at your first appearance can also help ensure your rights are protected and increase your chances of being released.
What Happens After the First Appearance Hearing?
After your first appearance hearing, here is what you can expect next:
- If you bonded out or were released on your own recognizance, you will be given a date for your arraignment hearing. This must occur within 30 days of your arrest.
- If you remain in custody, you will be returned to jail to await your bond hearing. This must occur within 5 days of your request for a hearing.
- Your lawyer will obtain discovery, meaning copies of the police reports and evidence. They will begin investigating your case and building a defense.
- You or your lawyer will decide how you wish to plead at your arraignment hearing – guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
- Your lawyer can file motions challenging the legality of the arrest, search, confession etc.
- Plea negotiations may begin with the prosecutor in an effort to reach a favorable resolution.
The arraignment starts the next phase of your case. In the meantime, be proactive about contacting a lawyer and learning about the charges against you so you can start preparing your defense.
What Happens If I Miss My First Appearance Hearing?
It is imperative that you appear for all scheduled court hearings. If you miss your first appearance, here is what could happen:
- The judge will issue a warrant for your arrest.
- You may be charged with failure to appear, which is a new criminal offense.
- You will be taken into custody when caught and held without bond.
- It will go on your criminal record.
- The prosecutor is less likely to offer a favorable plea deal.
Do not take the risk of missing your first appearance hearing. If an emergency comes up, have your lawyer request a continuance. Otherwise, make arrangements to be in court.
Common Questions and Concerns
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about first appearance hearings in St. Petersburg:
Should I speak at my first appearance hearing?
It is generally not advisable to speak at your first appearance hearing beyond answering basic questions about your name, address, etc. Anything you say can potentially be used against you later. Let your lawyer do the talking for you.
What should I wear to my first appearance hearing?
You should dress neatly and conservatively. Wear a button-down shirt or blouse, slacks or skirt, and dress shoes. You want to look presentable and respectful to the judge.
Will I be released on bail?
The judge will decide based on factors like your criminal history and ties to the community. For minor charges with no prior record, you may be released on your own recognizance. For serious felonies, substantial bail may be set. A lawyer can argue for reasonable bail.
What if I can’t afford an attorney?
If you cannot afford a lawyer, tell the judge you would like to request appointed counsel. If approved, the public defender’s office will represent you at no cost.
How long does the first appearance last?
First appearances typically only last a few minutes. More complex cases with multiple defendants may take longer, but generally they are brief hearings.
Can charges be dropped at this hearing?
It is unlikely the prosecutor will drop charges at this initial stage, but not impossible. An experienced lawyer may be able to negotiate dismissal for very minor offenses.
Going to court for a first appearance hearing can be intimidating if you’ve never been through the process before. Hopefully this overview has provided some insight into what to expect at your first appearance in St. Petersburg. The key takeaways are:
- It must occur within 24 hours of your arrest
- The judge will read your charges, set bail, and schedule future court dates
- Remain silent until you have legal counsel
- Hire an attorney or request a public defender to represent you
- Follow your lawyer’s advice closely to have the best outcome
With an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side, you can feel empowered to handle your first appearance hearing and the court process ahead. The lawyer will handle the legal complexities so you can focus on moving forward with your life.