What To Expect From Initial Hearings In A Criminal Case

Posted on: 25 May 2021

Once someone is facing formal criminal charges, the law requires initial hearings to address the matter. These have nothing to do with a possible jury trial. Instead, they are administrative proceedings intended to allow the court to protect your rights and sort some basic things out. You may find this a bit odd, so it's important to understand what to expect before going into an initial hearing.

Reading of the Charges

Criminal law requires the prosecution to inform both you and the court of what the charges are. Notably, these may differ a bit from what the police accused you of at the time of the arrest. Sometimes a prosecutor will decide that a particular charge doesn't fit or won't stick, and they may make some changes.

This is the point where the court needs to hear the prosecutors state what they think you did wrong. Under criminal law, you'll have an opportunity to question why and how the charges came to be. For example, a criminal law attorney might call an arresting officer to testify why they believed they had probable cause to investigate an alleged offense. Similarly, lawyers frequently use this opportunity to ask the court to dismiss charges.


A judge will ask you how you respond to the charges. There are virtually no scenarios where there is anything except for you to say, "Not guilty, your honor."

Even if you intend to plead guilty, entering a guilty plea at this point starts the sentencing process. Very few people will want that. A not guilty plea allows you to request a continuance, and then your attorney can take a closer look at the case.


Depending on how the court handles things, you might have the chance to ask to post bail at the first hearing. If not, there will normally be a bail hearing within a few days.

Notably, the court doesn't have to grant bail. However, there needs to be an extraordinary justification to not grant it. If the prosecution asserts that a person is a flight risk, for example, the defendant has the right to a bail hearing where the prosecution must lay out its argument for denying bail.

The judge will then decide whether the court will offer bail and what you'll have to post. For some minor offenses, the court may require what's called recognizance bail. This means you won't have to post money, but you offer your word that you will return for subsequent hearings and trial if necessary. However, the court might require property or money as a surety for your return to stand trial.

For more information about initial hearings, contact a criminal law attorney near you.