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What happens at the first hearing after charges are filed?

You have been charged with a crime. However, it is your first run-in with the law. What happens next? What are your options? If you do not understand the criminal justice process, it may help to read on. It all begins with the first appearance.

The very first hearing is an arraignment. You will appear before a judge who will state, to you and the open court, the nature of your charges or indictment. Thereafter, you will have an opportunity to make your plea. In the State of Missouri, those options are the following: not guilty, guilty, not guilty due to mental disease or defect or a combination of not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.

Accepting the plea and determining representation

Before the court can accept your plea, it must make sure that you understand the charges. The court will also ensure you are made aware of any mandatory minimums and potential sentences associated with the charge.

Additionally, if you have not obtained an attorney, the judge will let you know that you are entitled to representation. The court will also advise you of your right to remain silent and to a court-appointed attorney, if you are unable to afford one.

If you plead guilty, a trial will not be necessary. Pleading guilty means you have waived your right to a trial. If you choose to plead not guilty, the judge will set hearing and trial dates, and you will get to indicate your preference for a jury trial, if applicable.

Will I get bail?

After accepting a not guilty plea, the court will determine if you can be released on bail until the end of trial. In granting release, the court will consider how likely you are to appear at hearings, trial and/or sentencing.

In some instances, the court may place some restrictions upon your release, including but not limited to: placing you with someone who can supervise your whereabouts, restricting travel, requiring a bond be paid and/or reporting to an officer of the court.

Once the arraignment has concluded, other procedures will depend on the severity of the crime and assertions made at the first appearance. If you have additional questions, speaking with an attorney who is experienced in criminal defense is one of the best ways to feel secure through the process.

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