What Happens at an Initial Appearance in Utah Criminal Court?

Being arrested can be a terrifying and disorienting experience, especially if this is your first time interacting with the criminal justice system in a serious way. You are unlikely to be certain of exactly what is coming or exactly what steps you can and should take to protect yourself and your freedom. However, what you do and say at the start of your case can have major implications down the line. This is why it is vital to retain an experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer like those at Overson & Bugden as soon after your arrest as possible. Below, our attorneys explain what happens at an initial court appearance, what happens after the initial appearance, and how we can help navigate your case to the most possible positive resolution.

How an Initial Appearance Works in Utah Criminal Court

For some minor crimes and infractions, the police might simply release you with a summons for your initial appearance. Usually, when the police believe you have committed a crime, you will be arrested. After you are arrested, you will be transported to the local police station for what is known as the booking process. During booking, you will be photographed and fingerprinted and any items on your person at the time of your arrest will be inventoried. Then, you will be held in the station’s holding cell or at the local jail until your initial appearance and bail hearing can be held, usually within 72 hours at most.

For felony charges, the initial appearance will simply be where the charges against you are read and you are advised of your rights in the criminal process, including the right to counsel. For misdemeanor charges, the initial appearance will also be where you enter an initial plea of guilty or not guilty, usually known as an arraignment in Utah. It is important that you work quickly after your arrest to retain a lawyer to represent you at this hearing, as we are likely to advise you to plead not guilty while we collect more evidence and assess the strength of the case. The bail hearing can sometimes occur at the same time as the initial appearance, and sometimes it will occur shortly thereafter.

You will certainly want to have a skilled Utah bail hearing attorney by your side for this proceeding, where the judge will decide whether you can be released and how much bail to set, if any. Most judges will use the Utah Uniform Bail Schedule in making decisions about the amount of bail to set for a particular crime, but they are permitted to deviate from these guidelines if they find “extenuating circumstances” in your case. In determining such extenuating circumstances, the judge will consider such factors as the nature and severity of the crime alleged, any flight risk presented, your criminal history, and your ties and positive contributions to the community. Our lawyers know how to make the most persuasive arguments based on these factors that you should be released on little to no bail.

What Happens after the Initial Appearance in Utah?

Sometimes, there will be a preliminary hearing where the judge will decide if there is probable cause to proceed with the case. In most cases, the prosecutor will ask you to waive this hearing. You should never do so without first consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney like those at Overson & Bugden. The arraignment in felony cases will occur after this preliminary hearing has been held if it does occur. Much like at a misdemeanor arraignment, your lawyer is likely to advise you to enter an initial plea of not guilty while we request further discovery and begin speaking with the prosecutor about a potential deal to get your charges downgraded or dismissed.

Negotiations for a plea deal are likely to begin in earnest at this point if this is something that you are potentially interested in. If you are a first-time offender, meaning that you have a clean criminal record, and you have been charged with a misdemeanor or infraction, we may be able to get the prosecutor to allow you into what is known as a pre-trial diversion program. If you successfully complete such a program, which might involve such things as attending counseling, treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, doing community service, and staying out of further trouble with the law, your charged will be dropped and you will not have a criminal record. Other deals could involve getting your charges downgraded to something less serious or the prosecutor agreeing to recommend a less severe sentence in exchange for you entering a guilty plea.

If you do not wish to take a deal and want to take the matter to trial, there will be a pre-trial scheduling conference to check in with all the parties and set dates for the proceedings. During this time, we can also file motions with the court, such as a motion to suppress evidence found as a result of an illegal search or seizure.  If we believe the prosecutor has not turned over all their evidence to us as required by law, we can file a motion to compel discovery to get the court to order them to turn it over.

Any person charged with a crime in Utah (not including infractions) is entitled to a trial by jury. In such a trial, the jury will have to reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict you. However, you will also have the option to choose a bench trial, where a single judge will decide guilt or innocence. Our experienced trial lawyers at Overson & Bugden can walk you through the pros and cons of each possibility and mount an aggressive defense on your behalf at whichever type of trial you choose.

For Skilled Legal Representation at Your Initial Appearance and Beyond, Call Our Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys Today

The initial appearance, despite its brevity, can be an important start to your case. However, the case typically only gets more complicated and difficult after that. This is why it is so vital to have a skilled Lehi criminal defense attorney like those at Overson & Bugden on your side through the whole process. From the initial appearance all the way to trial if need be, our lawyers will be there with you every step of the way, answering any questions you may have and serving as your fearless advocate. For a free consultation, call us today at (801) 758-2287.