The Basics of a First Appearance

Question: What is a First Appearance?

Answer: The First Appearance is a Court proceeding which is held within 24 hours of the time of one’s arrest. This is also referred to as a “Bond Hearing.” It is at this proceeding that the Judge will review the Probable Cause Narrative submitted by law enforcement, which contains a summary of the facts regarding the case. The Court is looking to see whether there is probable cause to hold an individual on the charges for which the individual was arrested. This First Appearance event often is conducted by a different Judge than the one that will oversee the case, as well as a different Assistant State Attorney than the one who will actually prosecute the matter. Believe it or not, these First Appearance proceedings occur every single day of the year in Bay County, including on major holidays such as Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day, Easter Sunday, etc.

If there is no probable cause, then the Court will allow the person to be released with what is often referred to as an “ROR,” also known as a release on one’s own recognizance. On the other hand, if there is probable cause, then the Court will look to various factors in determining what the bond amount should be, or whether to even set a bond in the matter at all. It is possible to hold someone without bond, especially if one has violated the terms of one’s probation. Some factors used to make this determination include whether there is a danger to the community, which can be as simple as looking at the crime itself. For example, a violent crime or serious drug offense is going to have more severity than someone arrested for misdemeanor disorderly intoxication. Likewise, the Court will look to whether the individual has ties to the local community, as the Court wants to feel comfortable that the person will, in fact, show up to Court if released from the jail on bond. Some of the factors used in determining whether an individual has ties to the community are whether the individual owns property or has an established residence in the local area, whether the person is employed locally, does the person have family who reside locally, etc.

Although it is not required to have an attorney at your First Appearance, as the vast majority of individuals have yet to retain private counsel prior to the First Appearance hearing, it certainly can be beneficial, as an attorney can help prepare you for the factors which will be taken into consideration by the Court in determining whether to set bond, and if so, then what the bond should be in the matter. There are Constitutional protections guaranteed to an individual charged with a crime, such as the Constitutional proscription against excessive bond guaranteed to the Defendant by Section 14 of the Declaration of Rights of the Florida Constitution, as well as the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Such is language often cited by lawyers regarding the subject of bond.

If the bond set is more than one can afford, a lawyer can always file a Motion to Reduce Bond once the Defendant is before the actual Judge handling the Defendant’s matter. In the event there is a good legal reason to reduce the bond, it may be reduced by the Court. An example of such could be if the State chose to amend the charges to something less than for which the Defendant was arrested by law enforcement. It may come as a surprise to you to know there is actual case law out there regarding the issue of bond, as well as the issue of release in general.

Some counties, including Bay County, actually allow the Defendant to enter a plea if the Defendant is only charged with a misdemeanor. Such is very dangerous, as often Defendants will enter a plea simply to get out of jail, only to realize they had an actual, legitimate defense to the crime for which they just pled, and now are stuck with such on their record for the rest of their lives. Do not allow yourself, or a loved one, to be in this situation. Always speak to a lawyer prior to entering any plea, especially prior to a First Appearance plea, when chances are no one really knows much about the facts of the case. These are life altering decisions. Never let anyone pressure you into taking such a plea, especially someone who has spoken to you for less than five minutes in your entire lifetime.

Even if you do not hire an attorney prior to the First Appearance, at least call my law office before allowing yourself or a loved one to go through the First Appearance process, before it is too late and they fall into the trap of entering a plea at First Appearance. My law office will review your circumstances and assist your family and you in making the right decision. You do not want to be one of those who entered a plea ‘just to get out of jail,’ as we so often hear when individuals call only to be told it is likely too late. If you, or someone you know, is under investigation, or has been arrested, contact my law office today.