federal courthouseAfter arrest, the first time you are brought to court is called the Initial Appearance. You will generally be accompanied by federal marshals and appear before a federal magistrate. This is supposed to occur within 48 hours of your arrest and is usually quite brief. The magistrate will preside over the first two or three court appearances before you appear before the federal district court judge who is assigned to your case.

At the Initial Appearance, you will be informed of the offenses with which you have been charged, your constitutional rights (e.g., the right to counsel; the right to remain silent), and you’ll be asked if you can afford counsel. Anyone who cannot afford to hire an attorney will be required to fill out a financial affidavit that will be reviewed by the magistrate. If that person qualifies, a federal public defender will be appointed. Financial affidavits must be truthful and complete and are subject under penalty of perjury.

You will also be informed of the “statutory maximum” sentence, which is the most jail time you can receive if found guilty of the charge that’s been filed against you. In addition, the federal magistrate will ask the prosecutor if they wish to “move for detention,” which is a fairly common occurrence in federal court. In other words, this means: does the government want you to be detained or held in custody until your case is over? If they do, you will have the right to a detention hearing. If they don’t, you will be released on bond until your arraignment.