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Criminal Defense

What Happens at an Initial Appearance?

Mississippi law demands that when a person is arrested, they are to be taken before a judge as soon as possible. This first meeting with the judge is called the initial appearance. Hopefully, the first time that you go before a judge, you’ve already had an opportunity to contact a lawyer to have them there with you, because several things will happen, or at the very least should happen, at the initial appearance.

The first thing that happens is that the judge will inform the client about the charges against him or her and ask whether you plead guilty or not guilty. Assuming you have a lawyer there with you, he or she will speak on your behalf, and tell the judge that you are entering a not guilty plea.

The next step will be setting bond. This is where a lot of lawyers and judges start dropping the ball. Mississippi has several types of bonds; however, the default for most crimes is for a person to be released on their own recognizance, without posting any bail or getting a bondsman. Unfortunately, most prosecutors and judges do not understand that part of the law, as it is still relatively new.

When it comes to the initial appearance and securing pretrial release, a lawyer should argue that a person be released on their own recognizance or, at the most, that the conditions of pretrial release be the least restrictive. If the judge imposes an outrageous bond, then the lawyer can actually appeal that decision automatically to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

While all of this assumes that a lawyer is there at the initial appearance, unfortunately, most people do not see a lawyer, whether hired or a public defender, until several weeks, if not months, later. During that initial appearance, clients are often given outrageous bonds that are nearly impossible to pay, and usually, it’s because there was not a lawyer present to educate the judge on the law and advocate for their client.

If you or someone you know is arrested and about to be taken before a judge for an initial appearance, the worst thing that can happen is for that person to not have representation. The initial appearance is the first time that someone is taken before a judge, and therefore sets the tone for the rest of the case as it progresses through the legal process. Without adequate representation, a person may not realize the full extent of their rights, as well as how they can go about getting released.

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