Your First Appearance in Court: What to Expect

If you’ve been charged with a crime under North Carolina law, you are entitled to a “first appearance:” a proceeding before a judge in which the court reviews your charges. Not to be confused with an “initial appearance,” which occurs after your arrest, your first appearance is your first chance to be heard on your case.

What happens at my first appearance?

About a day or two after your arrest, you and your attorney will appear in court. The judge will review your file, the circumstances surrounding your arrest, and will advise you of your rights moving forward. The judge will also read you your conditions of release (if applicable) and will schedule the next step in your case: likely a probable cause hearing. If the judge finds your charges to be improper or defective, she will notify a prosecutor who will work with the judge to clear your record.

If you’ve been taken into custody, your first appearance will be held within 96 hours of the time of your arrest or during the first regular session of district court held in your county - whichever is earlier.

Do I have to attend my first appearance?

The short answer is yes: You may not waive your first appearance. However, your criminal defense attorney can appear in court on your behalf.

Even if, for some reason, your first appearance doesn’t occur within 96 hours, this will generally not affect your trial. If you’re concerned that a procedural hiccup or late first appearance might impact your rights, speak with your attorney right away.

Your criminal defense attorney can help you fight your charges and will work to try to reduce your sentence. Attorney Cotten has represented hundreds of clients through Wake, Johnston, Harnett, Orange, Sampson, Lee, and Chatham Counties in first appearance hearings. Give him a call or head to the main page to speak with a legal assistant.