The time immediately following an arrest can be confusing and scary. Many defendants do not know what the next steps are or what to expect.
In North Carolina, defendants go through one or two initial hearings before the true court proceedings begin.
Initial and first appearances
According to the UNC School of Government, NC Prosecutors’ Resource Online, both defendants facing misdemeanor or felony charges appear before a magistrate or judge for the initial appearance, which occurs shortly after the arrest. The judicial official informs the defendant of the charges and goes over pre-trial release conditions. He or she advises the defendant about the right to counsel.
The first appearance is for defendants facing felony charges as well as some misdemeanor cases. It often occurs within a day or two after arrest, but it must occur within 96 hours of the arrest. Along with informing the defendant of his or her rights, the judge more closely examines the charges and schedules a hearing for probable cause.
How judges determine bail
During the first appearance, the judge will also determine release conditions for the defendant. According to the News and Observer, state law requires judges to release defendants on their own recognizance unless there is reason to believe the defendant is going to:
- Cause harm to an individual or community
- Flee the state or country
- Threaten a witness
- Destroy evidence pertaining to the case
- Persuade someone to commit perjury
Unless it falls under a specific set of circumstances, such as a capital crime, the judge must release those who may flee or pose a threat, but there must be a set bail amount.