What should I expect at my initial appearance in federal court?

The Initial Appearance

After an arrest, you will be taken in front of a U.S. Magistrate Judge immediately for your Initial Appearance.  At your Initial Appearance the Judge will explain to you the offense(s) with which you have been charged.  He or she will explain some of your rights and ask you if you are able to hire your own lawyer or if you would like to apply for a court-appointed lawyer. The Magistrate Judge will ask the government if they are “moving for Detention” in your case.  If the government moves for detention then they are asking the court to hold you in jail until your case is heard.  This is common in federal court. You have a right to a detention hearing if the government “moves for detention”.  If the government does not move for detention, you will be released until your arraignment.

 A word of caution

 This is not a closed or protected hearing.  There is no opportunity for the defendant to “clear the air” or “explain misunderstandings”.  The proceedings will be recorded.  Anything the defendant says can be used against him or her.  There will be an experienced prosecutor present who will do exactly that given the opportunity.  It may be necessary for you to provide answers to basic informational questions.  Examples include “Do you understand the process that I have explained to you?” or “Have you received a copy of the Indictment?”.  Sometimes it is difficult to determine which questions are dangerous to answer in these preliminary hearings.  You should exercise your right to remain silent as much as possible and retain an experienced federal criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible.

For more information about the biggest mistakes people make in federal criminal cases that cost them years away from their families and the most effective ways to avoid these mistakes please call (877) 593-4233 to request a free copy of my book, Busted by the Federal Authorities, A Handbook for Defendants facing Federal Criminal Prosecution or to speak with an experienced professional about your case.


R. Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.