Written by attorney Samuel J. Randall IV

The Fed's got me!!!! What happens now? (General Overview of Initial appearance in Federal Court)

Once you are arrested and are processed, the next thing that happens is that you will be transported to the local federal courthouse -- usually within 24 hours -- to appear before a Federal Magistrate Judge.

Prior to being taken to Court you will probably receive a visit from a pre-trial services or United States Probation officer. This individual will ask you basic questions like your name, your address, your ties to the community (how long have you lived in that city, where you're family resides, etc.), your finances (what do you own, how much money do you have in the bank, etc.), your criminal history and your drug and alchohol history. Do not lie. If you would rather not answer the question -- don't. However, if you lie to the pre-trial officer it can later be used against you and it will affect your sentence if you plead guilty or are convicted. In any case, the officer will prepare a pre-trial services report which will recite the information you provided. It will also include your criminal history. Finally, it will include a recommendation to the judge for release or detention.

The purpose of the initial appearance is to advise you of the charges against you, to advise you of the arraignment date, to determine if you will hire an attorney or if one needs to be appointed for you. At this point you will find out several things. First, you will find out what you have been charged with. Second, you will find out if you have been charged as a result of a complaint or an indictment. Depending on the type of case and your personal particulars the Government (that's what the prosecutor is called) may ask for pre-trial detention (PTD). If you have already hired an attorney and he is ready and if the Government is ready to go forward then you might have a detention hearing at this time. However, if either you haven't hired an attorney or the Government asks for three days (which they are entitled to under the law) to prepare for the PTD hearing a bond hearing will be scheduled for a later date.

Please understand that each Jurisdiction has their own unique local rules. This guide is for inormational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. A competent criminal defense attorney from the jurisdiction in which the case is being handled can provide you with jurisdiction specific information regarding the local process.

Additional resources provided by the author

F.R.Crim.P. Rule 3 F.R.Crim.P. Rule 4 F.R.Crim.P. Rule 5 18 U.S.C. Sec. 3141 18 U.S.C. Sec 3142

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