This is the first time a suspect appears in court. An initial appearance for a person in custody must be held within 24 hours of arrest. A summons with the date and time of the initial appearance is sent to individuals not in custody.
At the initial appearance, four important events take place:
- The suspect is informed of the felony allegations.
- The person is advised of the right to an attorney. If the court finds the person cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed.
- Conditions of release are established. This means the court will determine if the person shall be released on bond or on their own recognizance, or remain jailed for the safety of the community.
- Another court date is set for the next proceeding, usually in Justice Court or Superior Court.
A felony charge is initiated by a complaint or an indictment. A prosecutor files a direct complaint in court, citing which crimes were allegedly committed. An indictment is issued by a grand jury, which determines from evidence presented by a prosecutor that a crime was committed and the suspect should stand trial on the allegations. Both a direct complaint and indictment define the alleged crimes and cite the date of offense and which laws were violated.
The defendant is notified when criminally charged and informed when to appear for the next court date. A judge can issue an arrest warrant if information is presented to indicate the person will not voluntarily appear in court at the scheduled time.
A preliminary hearing is required when a felony case is initiated by a direct complaint. The prosecutor presents evidence and witnesses to try to establish probable cause that the crime was committed and the defendant should stand trial. Generally, a preliminary hearing is held in Justice Court, but it may be held in Superior Court. The judge can dismiss the case for insufficient evidence or order a trial.