Step 5 – First Appearance – What Happens At First Appearance In A Criminal Case?
After arrest and the filing of charges, a defendant makes his or her first appearance in court. A defendant that has not bonded will be brought before the court in custody, by the appropriate law enforcement officers. Bonded individuals will be required to appear in court at the date and time specified on the bond paperwork given to them. Again, failure to attend this appearance—or any future appearance—can result in the revocation of the bond and the issuing of a new arrest warrant.
Section 22-2901 outlines the obligations regarding first appearances. The appearances must occur quickly. Generally, a defendant will be brought before a judge the next day court is open, though no hard-and-fast rule requires this exact deadline. Instead, the circumstances of each arrest, investigation and charges will determine what is “unnecessary delay.” For example, in State v. Nading, the defendant was arrested very early Saturday morning and charges were filed that afternoon. He was not brought before a judge until Tuesday afternoon, but the Kansas Supreme Court did not find this to be an unnecessary delay based upon the circumstances of that investigation. Thus, as a rule of thumb, the first appearance will generally be the next “business day,” but the day after that is likely within reason.
However, a defendant that is held too long before being brought for her first appearance has a valid complaint under Section 22-2901. The court may consider suppressing any evidence that was obtained during the unnecessary delay. This often will be in the form of information obtained during an interrogation of the defendant. Courts recognize that the longer a person is left in jail, the more likely they are to say anything in an attempt to be released. In State v. Crouch, the court relied on this logic in suppressing a confession made after the defendant had been incarcerated for nearly two weeks without a first appearance. The confessions were found to be virtually given under duress, as the defendant was simply trying to move his own case forward at any cost. The Kansas Supreme Court has also suggested that dismissal of the charges would be appropriate in the most extreme cases. However, the court has never found any case to be extreme enough to warrant such action, including the excessively long delay in Crouch.
First appearances accomplish very limited purposes. In a felony case, a defendant is not asked to plead guilty or not guilty, nor to offer any defense or explanation of what occurred. Instead, these appearances are safeguards of individual rights, as the Kansas Supreme Court noted in State v. Wakefield. These rights include important checks upon the investigation that produced probable cause for the arrest. The court wants to ensure that there is a sufficient basis to hold the defendant in jail and to re-examine the bond that has been set. The court also looks to prevent unlawful opportunities to improperly pressure defendants into waiving their rights by police investigating the alleged crime. Finally, the defendant will be informed of exactly what the charges being brought against her are and reminded of her right to an attorney.
First appearance may be best viewed as not only a safeguard of the defendant’s rights, but also a “house keeping” or “table setting” matter for the preliminary examination. The goal is to have the defendant and her legal counsel ready at the preliminary examination. That is where the defendant will respond to the district attorney’s evidence to give the probable cause underlying the case its first real test. This can only be accomplished when defendant has counsel and counsel has had sufficient time to prepare. Thus, a key point to determine during the first appearance is whether a defendant wishes to hire an attorney, represent herself (known as pro se), or can qualify for a public defender free-of-charge.
The plight of public defenders is well documented today. These attorneys are overwhelmed with clients and are often accused of falling victim to these workloads. This can lead to failing to provide the sort of representation a criminal case naturally demands. Additionally, it is difficult to locate and hire a private attorney while incarcerated. This places defendants in difficult positions. Though the client will always be the accused, family members or friends can help to contact private counsel for an incarnated loved one. Keeping in mind the forward-looking nature of a first appearance, quickly contacting legal counsel is essential to ensure that a case is not delayed and the defendant is not kept in jail any longer than necessary.
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