Initial (First) Appearance in Georgia Criminal Cases

An “initial appearance” is an accused’s first face-to-face encounter with a judge after arrest. The purpose of an initial appearance is to inform the accused of the nature of the charges and advise him/her of their basic rights.

The initial appearance may also serve as a probable cause hearing if the person was arrested without a warrant and no arrest warrant is secured prior to the initial appearance. However, getting an arrest warrant within 48 hours after a warrantless arrest satisfies this probable cause requirement.

Police making an arrest without a warrant shall bring the arrested person in front of a judge within 48 hours after the arrest. O.C.G.A. § 17-4-62.

Police making an arrest with a warrant shall bring the arrested person in front of a judge within 72 hours after the arrest. O.C.G.A. § 17-4-26. These time limitations include weekends and holidays.

Failure to meet these time requirements may result in the release of the arrested person through a writ of habeus corpus under O.C.G.A. § 17-4-62. The failure to provide a timely first appearance, however, will not prevent the State from prosecuting the case.

At the initial appearance the judge shall:

  • Inform the accused of the charges
  • Inform the accused of their Miranda rights
  • Determine whether the accused wants a court appointed attorney and how to obtain one
  • Inform the accused of their right to a committal (probable cause) hearing, unless waived by getting bond
  • In the case of a warrantless arrest, make a probable cause determination
  • Inform accused of right to grand jury indictment or accusation
  • Inform accused of when grand jury will next convene
  • Inform accused of right to jury trial
  • Inform accused of right to waive rights and plead guilty
  • Set bail unless offense is only bailable by superior court judge

Importantly, a defendant’s volunteered statements at the initial appearance may be admissible against the accused at trial. The accused person is NOT entitled to an attorney at the initial appearance because the initial appearance is not considered a “critical stage” in the criminal justice process. Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103 (1975).

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