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Do I need a Lawyer At My First Court Appearance?

January 6th, 2010

It is not unusual for persons still in denial following an arrest to proceed to court alone under the mistaken impression that they do not need a lawyer at their first court appearance, or that they can handle it themselves.  They could not be more mistaken.  Unaware of potential legal consequences and pitfalls, it is a 50-50 proposition, that appearing at a first court appearance in a criminal case without a lawyer is going to result in a bad decision, and that same may ultimately have an impact on the outcome of a case.

A first court appearance on a criminal charge is what is known as an arraignment.  At the time of an arraignment one accused of a crime is provided with notice of the charges, notice of their constitutional rights, and is usually expected to immediately make certain decisions as to how some logistical matters will be handled, such as if they intend to assert their right to a speedy trial, enter a plea or defer same, or make any special requests, such as a bail reduction or a release on their own recognizance.

The situation is extremely stressful, in particular for an in custody arrestee, and arrestees not represented by a lawyer.  People oftentimes go into court thinking they are going to be given the opportunity to explain what brought them to their current circumstances, only getting, at most, a brief one sided dialogue with a Judge, and then its over.  In Santa Clara County in custody arrestees on misdemeanor cases are often brought before a Superior Court Judge and offered the opportunity right at the gate, to plead guilty, and get out of jail.  Under such circumstances even factually innocent people, faced with the prospect of job loss, home loss, the further hardship to family members that incarceration entails, sometimes jump at the chance to immediately plead guilty, and get out of the horror of jail, not even realizing that they perhaps would have otherwise been entitled to a bail reduction or own recognizance release, that would have given them the opportunity to get out of jail pending trial, and adequately prepare an appropriate defense.

One has the right to be represented by an attorney at their arraignment in court, and one is best advised to take advantage of that right.  Everyone should agree that if you have been seriously injured in an accident, one is ill advised to refuse the ambulance ride to the hospital.  Similarly, if one is faced with something as potentially life compromising as the consequences of a criminal charge one should seek out the professional help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.  The San Jose Mercury News recently reported that in a recent study of 246 random resisting arrest cases in Santa Clara County, at least 47% of the persons represented by an attorney were able to avoid conviction on the charged offense, as opposed to 10% of those without an attorney.

If you or a loved one have been arrested, protect yourself to the fullest extent possible, contact San Jose Criminal Defense Attorney Bernard P. Bray and learn your options before you go to court.  It can make all the difference in the outcome of your case.


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