The Initial Appearance in a Federal Criminal Case

Friends-I just returned from the federal courthouse in beautiful Atlanta, Georgia on this late March day where I helped my client navigate through his Initial Appearance on a federal criminal matter.  I have been doing these hearings for over 40 years,  but they are always a bit nerve-wracking for clients who have never been through the process.

The first stop is a hearing in front of a U.S. Magistrate Judge.  Today was a good assignment, the very capable Judge was a former protege, I helped her try her first federal criminal case in this District many years ago.  All Magistrates inform the accused person of the charges against them and their rights.  The Magistrate then tells the person about the process going forward, he or she goes over bail options and a few other standard details such as assigning the case to another Judge for further proceedings.  Much of the time we work out the bail package ahead of time.  Today was no different, and my client merely had to sign an “unsecured bond”, meaning he and his family did not need to put up any money or property to secure his release on bail.

Next stop: the U.S. Marshal Service for “processing.  This part is sometimes the most scary for clients, in that I surrender them to a Deputy Marshal who takes the accused person back into a “lockup  facility”, which has cells, bars and inmates in handcuffs and ankle chains.  The Marshal Service then takes photographs and fingerprints, and runs one final computer check to make sure there are no “holds” or “detainers” on my client.  Today, the Deputy was very cool with my client, who is only 23 years old. The Deputy came out and explained that he told my client about what it is like back there for the people in cuffs and chains, and the Deputy said he hopes to never see my client again.

Last stop: U.S. Probation, where they open a file on my client for what is called “pretrial supervision”.  All along the way, I make a point of talking with as many people as possible who work in these various offices and courtrooms.  I have met many of these federal employees in the 40+ years I have been helping clients navigate the “system.”  It makes my client slightly more at ease to see that the individual federal employees in the system are real people and that I have at least some relationship with many of them.

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