I had a really nice woman in my office today who wanted to hire me to be her lawyer in a felony case. Her biggest block was, well – money. She said she had been "hoping to avoid all those hearings" and thereby make it possible to hire me. Fewer hearings means less time spent on the case and less cost. At least that was her perception, and to some extent she was right. More work costs more. That simply does not change the reality of the court appearances in a felony case.
A person charged with a felony in an Idaho court will make a first appearance before a magistrate judge, generally after having been booked into jail on the charge. That first appearance provides the opportunity for the court to advise you of your rights, appoint counsel if needed and set or reconsider a bond that has already been set. The court will then set a date for a preliminary hearing – usually within 21 days. That preliminary hearing is a chance to see the evidence relied upon by the state to establish probable cause. If the State uses a grand jury and obtains an indictment, the right to have a magistrate judge consider the issue of probable cause goes away.
If the magistrate finds probable cause to believe you have committed a felony offense or if you have been indicted, your next appearance is before the district court judge assigned to your case for an arraignment. Usually your lawyer will enter a plea of not guilty, and the judge will set dates for discovery, filing and hearing motions, and perhaps a pretrial conference.
And of course there is the main event – the trial. The court will set that date too at the arraignment. Generally your trial date will be 90 to 180 days out from arraignment, depending on the complexity of the case and the trial court’s schedule. If you need more time the court may grant a motion to extend the time to prepare for trial.
So there you have it: Felony Court Appearances 101. But the preparation of a criminal case is so much more than just showing up for trial. There are investigative reports to be read and analyzed and legal motions to consider. And of course there is the story.
The story is everything. Check out prior posts on the importance of telling your story.
More time does cost more money – but more time means "more prepared." More prepared means more likely to get it done at trial. And the trial is a war. I mean that. War. Battle. Fights. Blood and guts and throbbing headaches for you and your lawyers. Even if you do it all right you may still lose. I know it doesn’t happen on TV but in real life it does – we lose cases we think we cannot lose and we win cases we think we are likely to lose. Often time spent on the case is the difference.