Published Nov 23, 2020
Any interaction with the criminal justice system can make one uneasy or anxious. This is especially the case when someone’s been charged with a felony and is awaiting their first court appearance. It’s quite natural for an arrested person to want to know the penalties they could be facing, whether they can get out of custody, or any other information pertinent to their case. So, how long does it take to get a court date after being charged with a felony? Let’s look at the facts.
WHAT IS A FELONY?
Felonies are the most severe classification of crimes, punishable by imprisonment for over one year or death.
AFTER BEING ARRESTED
After a person is arrested, they’re taken into police custody, where they await their first court appearance (also popularly called “arraignment” or “initial appearance”). If they’re being kept under custody, this should take no more than 48 hours. However, the rules change if this person posts bail or is released “OR” or released on their own recognizance.
Bail is cash, a bond, or property that an arrested person gives to the court to ensure that they will appear in court on a later date when ordered. Failure to appear on this later date disqualifies them from having their bail returned, and a warrant will be issued for this person’s arrest.
When a criminal suspect is released on their “own recognizance,” this is merely a written statement promising to return to court when ordered. They need not pay bail money to the court, nor will they need to post a bond.
Arraignments take place with the defendant appearing before a United States Magistrate. In this appearance, the defendant is informed of their rights, and the charges are explained. Next, the court assists the defendant in making arrangements for legal representation with the possibility of a public defender being assigned to them by the court, should it be necessary. Then, you will be asked to enter into a plea, where you can plead the following:
- Guilty – is a complete admission of guilt and a waiver of rights (including constitutional rights and the right to trial). Most attorneys would advise against pleading guilty unless it brings benefits, such as a shorter sentence or less severe punishments.
- Not Guilty – a not guilty plea is a complete denial of guilt. When a defendant pleads not guilty, the case will most likely go to trial and allow the defense time to go over and review the discovery (evidence and information related to the case that the prosecutors must give the defense).
- No Contest (Nolo Contendere) – an alternative to the guilty and not guilty plea, a no contest plea is one where the defendant neither admits nor denies committing the crime. When a defendant pleads no contest, they are still subject to the same penalties of pleading guilty. However, one significant advantage is that other people may not use the defendant’s conviction as an admission of fault in the civil case.
AFTER THE FELONY CHARGE
After the defendant is charged with a felony, several things may happen. The court may release the defendant after posting bail or let them leave “OR,” just as after the arrest. In some cases, the defendant may be kept in custody without bail, which could speed up the process leading up to the preliminary hearing.
The preliminary hearing is the step before taking the case to a criminal trial. During a preliminary hearing, the prosecution should produce enough evidence to force the defendant to stand trial. Judges use the “probable cause” legal standard, assessing the evidence whether a crime was actually committed and if the defendant committed said crime.
You have a right to have your preliminary hearing within ten days of your initial appearance or arraignment. However, you may waive this right, which extends that to within sixty days of your arraignment, unless you waive this right as well.
WHAT HAPPENS IF A CASE GOES TO TRIAL?
Once a defendant is guaranteed to go to trial, the prosecutor must file the “Information,” or the formal complaint alleging the charges against you. They must file this within 15 days of the preliminary hearing. Following this, your trial must start within 60 days of the arraignment on the Information. To ensure you’re kept updated on your court date, you should visit your Clerk’s Office to verify they have your correct address. Additionally, you should have your attorney helping you with the case, as they will likely inform you when you need to be in court.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Terrence Tan Ting is an industrial engineer by profession but a full time writer by passion. He loves to write about a wide range of topics from many different industries thanks to his undying curiosity.