What to Expect at Your First Court Appearance in Florida


Whether you’re facing misdemeanor or felony charges, understanding what to expect during your first court appearance can help alleviate some of the stress associated with going into court as a criminal defendant. This article is a guide to give you details about what typically happens at your initial court appearance, highlight the importance of contacting an experienced criminal defense lawyer, and offer some tips on how to avoid costly errors during this important proceeding.  

Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, is a Tampa-based criminal defense law firm with many years of courtroom experience representing people from all backgrounds who are facing criminal charges. Our skilled and knowledgeable lawyers work in Florida’s state and federal courts fighting to protect each client’s legal rights and to maximize the opportunities to end the case with the best possible outcome. If you are arrested or charged with a crime in Florida, contact Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law for personal service with the highest degree of professionalism. 




Understanding the Purpose of the First Court Appearance

Your first court appearance is known as an arraignment. It is an extremely important stage in the case and constitutes the first formal judicial proceeding in your case. The primary purpose of the arraignment is to have a judge review the charge and the allegations to determine if there is “probable cause” for the charge to be filed. Generally, every charge filed by police is routinely accepted by the arraignment judge. In extremely rare circumstances, a charge may be dismissed at arraignment if the police have failed to allege sufficient factual grounds to bring the charge. 

 The arraignment serves 3 other essential purposes, each of which is key to the next phases of the accused person’s case: 

Formal Charges 

The initial court appearance (arraignment) is the proceeding in which the court formally informs you of the charges against you. It is legally required to ensure that you are notified and understand the nature of the allegations. 

Legal Rights 

By the time you arrive at your first court appearance, you have probably already been informed of your legal rights. Most people who are arrested are notified by the police of their Miranda rights, including your right to remain silent, that your statements can be used against you in court, and that you have a right to a lawyer before being questioned, at state expense if you cannot afford to pay for a lawyer. 

However, not everyone is given Miranda warnings. The law only requires the police to read Miranda rights to detainees before questioning them if the person is in custody. If the police do not question an arrestee, they need not read them Miranda rights. They are also not required by law to give Miranda rights before questioning a person who is not in custody. Whether or not an interrogation was “custodial” or not is often a hotly contested issue. 

To ensure you know your rights, the judge informs every defendant of their right to hire counsel or to have one appointed to represent them during the arraignment. The judge will not ask you questions about the case. Instead, they will tell repeat that you have the right to remain silent. 


Setting Bail or Bond 

The court also must address bail or bond conditions during your arraignment, determining whether you will be released from custody pending trial. The factors affecting the decision to release a defendant on bail or to hold them in custody include the nature and seriousness of the offense, the defendant’s ties to the community, the potential threat they present to the community, their prior criminal record, and their ability to make bail. 

In most misdemeanor cases, if the defendant is a Florida resident and has little or no criminal history, the court will release the defendant on their own recognizance or promise to appear in court when scheduled and to keep the peace. However, the arraignment judge can require that an accused person post some security to ensure that they obey the law and show up in court. 

Winning favorable release terms is one of the chief benefits of hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer before your first court appearance.

Criminal defense lawyers prepare for the hearing by collecting all the favorable information needed to convince the court that the defendant is a good candidate for waiver of bail (release on a promise only).  

If an amount of bail is ordered by the judge, along with other conditions of release, the defendant needs to post bail in one of three ways: 

  • Pay the full amount of the bail with cash or check, 
  • Post a bond in the amount of 10% of the bail through a professional bond seller. The bond seller will charge a fee for putting up the bond and they usually require collateral for the bond in addition to the fee. Typically, the bond seller will want an interest in property to be assigned to them to ensure they recover the money from the bond if forfeited because the defendant fails to appear in court.  
  • Post equity in property directly with the court to cover the bond, cutting out the bond seller as a middleman. 

What to Expect During the Court Appearance


  1. Check-In: Upon arrival at the courthouse, you’ll need to check in with court personnel or your attorney. Arrive early to allow time for any necessary paperwork or formalities. 
  2. Courtroom Proceedings: When your case is called, you’ll enter the courtroom and stand before the judge. The judge will read the charges against you and explain your rights. It’s essential to listen carefully and remain respectful throughout the proceedings. 
  3. Remain Silent: You have the right to remain silent. USE IT. Be polite and be quiet. Only provide necessary information, name, date of birth, address, etc.  Do not discuss the facts of the case in any manner. 
  4. Bail or Bond Determination: If you are in custody, the judge will address bail or bond conditions. This may involve setting bail, modifying existing conditions, or ordering your release on your own recognizance. Your attorney can advocate for the most favorable outcome regarding bail or bond. 
  5. Next Court Date: The judge will schedule your next court appearance, typically a pretrial hearing or case management conference. Note of date and time, and ensure that you or your attorney appear as required. 

Contact a Skilled Criminal Defense Law Immediately

You would not walk into a hospital and expect to gather supplies to treat your own injury. You don’t drive your car into a garage and then help yourself to the tools to repair your transmission. Don’t think about representing yourself in any criminal court proceeding. 

Attorneys Ben Stechschulte and Amy Nell have spent decades studying and practicing the law of criminal defense in Florida courts. Every person charged with a crime needs the help of an experienced professional criminal defense lawyer to fight off a wrongful or avoidable conviction.  

The strategies and techniques developed by expert criminal defense lawyers to counter the prosecution’s tactics are invaluable to a defendant, especially in serious cases. Even more valuable is the advocacy of a Board-Certified criminal defense lawyer like Ben Stechschulte, one of the few board-certified criminal defense attorneys in the state of Florida. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our firm today.  

Get the Experienced Criminal Defense Law Firm 

Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law 

Call 813-280-1244 

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