Once an individual has been arrested, the next step in the criminal process is the initial appearance. The initial appearance refers to the first time that the defendant appears before a judge. Even if the defendant has been allowed a temporary release on bail, he or she is generally obligated to be present in court for the initial appearance.
At an initial appearance the Judge will inform the defendant of his right to a lawyer. The judge will ask whether the defendant wants to hire a lawyer, represent himself or apply for a court-appointed lawyer. The Judge will inform the defendant as to the specific charges against him or her. The Judge will inform the defendant of the next scheduled court appearance. The Judge will not give legal advice. The Judge may also address the issue of bond at the initial appearance.
This is not a closed or protected hearing. There is no opportunity for the defendant to “clear the air” or “explain misunderstandings”. The proceedings could be recorded. Anything the defendant says can be used against him or her. There is generally a prosecutor present who will do exactly that given the opportunity. No responsible person should ever go to criminal court without a competent criminal defense attorney.
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