Arraignment in District of Columbia

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In the District of Columbia, officers must bring someone they’ve arrested to court “without unnecessary delay.” (D.C. Code § 23-562(c)(1).) There is no specific time limit that gives meaning to “unnecessary delay.” But federal law suggests that an initial appearance should be held within 48 hours after arrest, unless there are extraordinary circumstances.

(For more general information on arraignment and initial court appearances, see Arraignment: Getting to Court. Also see How should I plead at arraignment?)

Initial Appearance

In a misdemeanor case, the initial appearance is called arraignment. With felony cases, however, the initial appearance is called presentment. (“Arraignment” also occurs in felony cases, but after the filing of charges.)

Whether it’s a misdemeanor (arraignment) or felony case (presentment), the court will, after reading the charges, advise the defendant of certain rights, such as the right:

The court will also typically:

  • confirm the defendant’s name and address
  • appoint an attorney, if the defendant can’t afford one
  • provide the defendant with a sworn statement of probable cause (which states the basis for the arrest)
  • determine whether to release the defendant and set bail and the conditions of release
  • set a date for the preliminary hearing (also known as a preliminary examination) for a felony charge, unless the defendant waives such a hearing
  • set a date for the status hearing for a misdemeanor charge. (D.C. Super. Ct. R. Crim. P. 5, 109.)

A suspect who was arrested without a warrant and who is to be kept in custody or released with significant restrictions has the right to an immediate determination of probable cause. By the end of the day after the initial appearance, the prosecution must file a sworn statement describing the basis for the arrest (it usually does so immediately). The court must then “promptly” determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime in question; the judge need not hold a hearing for this determination. (D.C. Super. Ct. R. Crim. P. 5(c).)

Preliminary Examination

In-custody defendants are entitled to a preliminary hearing within a reasonable time—not more than 10 days after the initial appearance. If they’re out of custody, this timeframe is 20 days. The court can’t extend either timeframe without the consent of the defendant unless there are extraordinary circumstances.

Consult a Lawyer

If you’ve been arrested, whether or not you’ve been to court, seek legal assistance. Only a knowledgeable attorney can advise you of the relevant law and protect your rights.

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