What To Expect When You Are Expected in Rhode Island District Court On A Criminal Charge
So, you have been charged with a criminal offense; maybe it was driving on a suspended license, maybe it was assault, possession of a controlled substance, or otherwise. If you have never been in trouble with the law before, you are probably a nervous wreck, your mind reeling with the possibilities of what may happen to you when you attend your first court date. This article strives to remove some of your worry, and to provide some basic advice regarding your upcoming experience. Please note that this article is not to be construed or relied on as legal advice for your particular situation; each case is different and you should speak with a lawyer immediately to ensure protection of your rights.
If you have been summonsed to the Rhode Island District Court, you should plan to arrive at the courthouse for 8:15am; most sessions start promptly at 9:00am, and you need to make absolutely sure that you are present for the "call of the calendar." The call of the calendar is exactly what it sounds like; your name appears on the court's calendar, and the Judge will call the list of names; you must reply "here", otherwise you risk having a bench warrant issued, which means you would be arrested, brought into court, and expose yourself to additional trouble (which you assuredly do not need if you are already facing criminal charges). Additionally, there is often a very long line the closer you come to the start of the court's session; if you get there ten minutes early, it will reduce your anxiety, and as a bonus, you will likely find a place to sit and wait outside of the courtroom.
Know that you will be going through a metal detector upon entry to the courthouse; try to reduce the amount of things in your pockets to speed up your entry to the courthouse, and do not bring anything that remotely resembles a weapon.
I must advise you to wear proper attire to court. As much as you may feel that you have been wrongly charged, or mistreated by the officer who arrested you, or summonsed you, you must show respect for the Court. This means a few things 1.) dress like you are going to a job interview at a bank. 2.) Don't wear sandals or shorts and a tee shirt; you may be prohibited from entering the courtroom if you are inappropriately dressed. 3.) do not chew gum or bring food and/or beverages with you to court; they will not be allowed in the building.
When you enter the courtroom, be respectful to the Court Officers. They have a tough job to do, and they don't know you from a hole in the wall. They will be stern with you, but you must understand that it is their job to make sure the court runs in an orderly fashion, and they must protect the Judge. If you mouth off to a Court Officer you may be found in Contempt of Court and/or removed from the courtroom; its additional trouble that, once again, you do not need.
After the call of the calendar, the Judge will take matters as he or she prefers. When you are called up at an arraignment, you have the option to enter a plea of guilty not guilty, or nolo contendere. It is almost universally true that you should not enter a guilty plea at the arraignment. Most persons enter a plea of not guilty at the arraignment and attempt to negotiate a plea agreement or other disposition before the next court date. A typical arraignment takes no more than a couple of minutes once you are in front of the Judge.
If you are from out of state, and if you are being released on your own recognizance, you will be asked to sign a form called a "Waiver of Extradition" which assures the court that upon your release that day, and return to your home state, that you will not fight extradition to the State of Rhode Island if the court demands your presence here.
Whether or not you will have to post bail in order to leave the courthouse is a question that can only be answered based on the individual facts of your case; you should call an attorney if you are concerned about whether or not you will qualify to be released on your own recognizance.
After you enter your plea, the court will set another date for you to return. Most times your next date will be something called a Pre-Trial Conference. Your lawyer will be able to speak with the prosecuting attorney by the Pre-Trial Conference date, and will attempt to negotiate the most favorable outcome possible for you. If an agreement cannot be reached, or if more time is necessary to effectuate the best possible outcome for you, your lawyer may ask for a continuance. The scope of this article is not intended to extend to trial; if you have any questions regarding the criminal process, please call my office at 401.388.0412.
You have the right to remain silent... use it! Do not speak about anything to do with your case with anyone but your lawyer. When you speak to your lawyer, don't lie! Your conversations with your lawyer are privileged; you need to tell him or her the truth for them to adequately represent you.
Once again, it is in your best interest to consult an attorney whenever you have been charged with a criminal offense. Criminal charges are serious business and can negatively impact your future if not handled carefully. Attorney Richard Kuhn is licensed to practice law in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island. The Law Office of Richard E. Kuhn, III can be reached by calling 401.388.0412 in RI, or 774.955.0808 in MA.