When charged with a criminal offense in Indiana, your first appearance in court is called an "Initial Hearing".  Indiana Code 35-33-7-1 requires that an arrested person be taken "promptly" before a judicial officer in the county where the arrest is made or where venue for the case is presumed to be. The statute does not define "promptly", but most courts have said that an initial hearing within 48 hours is reasonable, although longer periods (such as over a weekend or a holiday) have been approved as well.  If you posted bond prior to the initial hearing, an initial hearing will be scheduled within 20 days of your arrest. At the initial hearing that you will be informed of the charge or charges against you and advised of your rights as a defendant.  If you do not have an attorney, the court will ask you if you intend to hire an attorney and will advise you of your right to have an attorney appointed if you cannot afford to hire private counsel.  If you request a public defender the court will ask about your assets and income and determine if you are eligible.  If you intend to hire a lawyer the court will set a time limit for an attorney to be hired.   Keep in mind that even when a public defender is appointed, you can still hire counsel at a later date.  In most cases, a preliminary plea of not guilty is entered on your behalf at the initial hearing.  Some courts will permit a defendant to plead guilty at his or her initial hearing.  However, it is not generally advisable to do so, since you may not yet have an attorney to advise you and even if you do, the attorney will not have been able to properly evaluate the case. Once you plead guilty you lose any bargaining power you had to negotiate with the prosecutor regarding your sentence. You may be concerned that entering a "not guilty" plea will be used against you later or make you look somehow dishonest if you should choose later to admit your guilt and plead guilty.  This is not the case. Entering a not-guilty plea will not affect your ability to later plead.  It is almost always in your best interest to enter a not-guilty plea at the initial hearing and allow time for the charges and the evidence to be evaluated. In many instances, an initial hearing on a misdemeanor charge can be waived if the defendant is not in custody and the attorney has filed a written waiver of the initial hearing.  If a waiver is granted you will not have to appear at the initial hearing and additional court dates will be scheduled and the dates provided to you and your attorney. June 7, 2023

This is the first in a series of blogs outlining the terms and events relevant to a criminal case. Being charged with a crime is one of the most serious matters any of us can face. Even if you have gone through the criminal justice system before you can find the charges, the various motions and procedures and court appearances confusing and frightening.  If you are facing the system for the first time the situation may at times seem overwhelming.  Knowledge is power, so it is important to know what to expect as your case moves forward.  The following is a basic overview of some of the steps that can occur in a criminal case in Indiana state courts. Keep in mind that this information is general in nature and may or may not apply to any specific case or situation and should not be construed as legal advice.