After someone has been arrested for a crime in Hillsborough county, there’s a good chance that they will have a “first appearance” in front of the First Appearance Court. Let’s talk about what happens at first appearance court.
What is a first appearance?
A first appearance is a preliminary hearing in front of a judge in criminal cases in order to determine whether the person is entitled to a bond, what the bond should be, and whether there will be any other conditions of pre-trial release such as an order preventing them from contacting the alleged victim.
Typically first appearance court is conducted via video-conference from the Orient Road Jail. The judge’s actual courtroom is in downtown Tampa, but the inmates appear via a video screen from the jail.
At the first appearance the judge will determine the bond based on a number of different factors, and you can read more about the process for determining the bond amount here.
A first appearance is not when a defendant enters a plea or asks for an attorney. A defendant has no obligation to say anything to the judge at the hearing. In fact, if a defendant does try to say anything to the judge, usually the judge will tell the defendant that anything they say can and will be held against them later, and to be sure they want to say something.
What kind of crimes require a first appearance?
For many crimes the bond is automatically set by law without the need for a first appearance. If that’s the case the person arrested can arrange for the bond to be paid and then be release from jail.
However for the following crimes a person must appear in court for a first appearance and have a judge determine whether or not they should be allowed to bond out:
- Any capitol felony;
- Any felony punishable by life in prison;
- Any charge related to first-degree murder;
- Crimes such as carjacking, sexual battery, escape, arson, or drug trafficking;
- Child abuse; and
- Domestic violence offenses.
Who is the first appearance judge?
Currently Judge Conrad is the First Appearance Judge. He was previously a misdemeanor court judge. Judge Conrad handles first appearances on weekdays, but on weekends the first appearance court is handled by the “duty judge” – basically the judge who is on-call for that particular weekend.
Keep in mind that just because one judge handles the first appearance, that doesn’t mean that judge will be the judge presiding over the criminal case. After first appearance the judge will be assigned based on which division the criminal case is given.
What about pre-trial release conditions?
Paying a bail bond isn’t the end of the story when it comes to pre-trial release. In many cases of battery or domestic violence, the judge will issue a “no contact order” as part of the pre-trial release conditions. In other cases the judge can order drug or alcohol testing while the person is out on pre-trial release. Pre-trial release also requires that the person out on bond have no issues with law enforcement.
Any violation of pre-trial release conditions will end with the person back in jail and their bond revoked. If you are out on pre-trial release make sure you are complying with all conditions.
Can the bond be reduced?
Depending on the circumstances a bond can be reduced. The defendant’s attorney will file a motion with the judge handling the criminal case, and have a hearing on what a reasonable bond should be.
Is it necessary to have an attorney for a first appearance hearing?
Having a private attorney appear at a first appearance can help a person’s case in many ways. The attorney can make arguments to the judge about what a reasonable bond should be, and bring up factors that weigh in favor of a lower bond, such as ties to the community, work history, and criminal history. The attorney also will have the opportunity to hear the testimony of any alleged victims that appear to testify, and even ask them questions in some limited circumstances.
We can help
If you or a family member has been arrested you should get help immediately. At Hillsborough Defense we handle first appearance hearings as well as bond reduction hearings. Contact us immediately if you would like a free consultation about your case.
Photo: “Courtroom” by Karen Neoh is licensed under CC BY 2.0