First Appearance is also called a probable cause hearing or 24 hour hearing. Usually within the first 24 hours of your arrest, you will appear before a judge or you may appear via satellite television. If you have an attorney he or she may or may not be present. Sometimes, defendants are allowed to enter a negotiated plea if the crime is a misdemeanor. Only the smaller counties usually have an early plea option. If you do appear before the judge, he/she will only want to hear information pertaining to your ties to the community. That's it. Don't discuss your case because you are likely being recorded or a prosecutor is there writing down what you say in case you change it later. Ties are length of time you've lived there, employment, property, friends, family members, etc. If you are arrested, you may have the option to bond out before this first hearing. Every county is different. If you are released on bond, then you will be given a notice to appear.
If you were not arrested or you bonded out early as described above, then this will be your first court appearnance. Usually the prosecutor will file an Information laying out and describing exactly what you are being charged with. Here, you will have three options: hire an attorney, fill out the paperwork for a public defender, or represent yourself and talk to the prosecutor (in some misdemeanor cases). In most cases, the prosecutor will offer a plea at this time. If you don't enter a plea at this court date, your case will be continued. Your attorney should have started receiving discovery in your case (the full report, photos, statements, video tapes, etc.).
Some judges will take all of the cases on the docket that are continued to pre trial and some judges will continue cases to another arraignment. A docket is the list of paperwork that everyone seems to be looking at as cases are called. It is a synopsis of all names, charges and case numbers of the day.
Just because your case appears on a Pre Trial docket doesn't actually mean your case is going to trial in the next few days or weeks. It is pretty standard for judges to bring everyone after Arraignment back for PreTrial. The Pre Trial docket can be pretty big so if you do have to appear in court, expect to wait a while. You will again be offered a plea or the offered plea may be withdrawn by the state. Your plea may be different -- sometimes lighter and sometimes more severe. This is because during the process, more information has come to light. Information the prosecution and defense learned during depositions, in the full report, witness statements, photographs, 9-1-1 tapes, etc. If your attorney finds legal issues in the way you were charged or arrested, then they will likely file a motion to suppress or a motion to dismiss. You may or may not have to attend because the judge may or may not have an actual hearing on the issue.
As a defendant, you will need to be present and on time for your trial date. If you have decided not to enter a plea at this point, most judges will not allow you to enter a plea on the morning of trial. If you change your mind about entering a plea during the week before trial, let your attorney know because they can usually get before the judge. The day of your trial week doesn't mean your trial is going to last the whole week. Most judges set jury selection for the Monday of the trial week, but some do it the Friday before the Monday of the trial week. Expect to pick a jury. Depending on the type of case you have will depend on the number of jurors. Judges have a preset list of questions that they will ask each juror. Look for their responses. You can let your attorney which jurors you do or do not prefer and they will be allowed to strike some jurors without providing any reason at all. Pay attention, but also remember the jurors are also paying attention to you so sit up straight.
Other areas to be especially watchful for
The 45-day rule. During Arraignment or Pre Trial if the state has not filed an Information in your case, your attorney can ask the judge to release you without any stipulations. This is often called ROR.
Waiving Speedy Trial. The state only has so many days to bring your case to trial unless you waive your right to speedy trial. This will usually come about when your case gets continued from one Pre Trial to the next Pre Trial and the judge doesn't want your attorney to spring up and demand to go to trial within the next two weeks. This will cause a huge disruption in the court calendar and the judge will likely be beyond mad. Waiving your right to speedy trial doesn't have to be a negative thing. Your attorney may actually need more time to prepare your defense.