In Ohio, a defendant’s first appearance in court after arrest is called an initial appearance. Depending on the circumstances, the court might arraign the defendant at this appearance. At arraignment, a judicial officer, such as a judge or magistrate, formally reads the charges in the charging document (indictment, information, or complaint), and the defendant then enters a plea. (See How should I plead at arraignment?)
For more information on arraignment and initial court appearances in general, see Arraignment: Getting to Court.
Getting to Court
After arrest, law enforcement agents must either bring arrestees before the court without “unnecessary delay” or release them. (Ohio Crim. R. 4 (E), (F).) Courts haven’t said what, exactly, constitutes “unnecessary delay.” Federal case law suggests that if the accused, while in custody, goes 48 hours or more without a court appearance, the prosecution must justify the delay by showing that there were extraordinary circumstances.
If the arrest was based on a warrant, officers must bring the accused to the court that issued the warrant. Otherwise, any court with jurisdiction over the alleged offense will suffice. (It will typically be the courthouse in the county of arrest.)
Notification of Rights
At the initial appearance, the court must ensure that the defendant knows and understands:
- the nature of the charges alleged
- the right to a lawyer even if the defendant can’t afford one, including the right to a reasonable continuance to obtain one
- the right to remain silent (the prosecution may use any statements against the defendant)
- the right to a preliminary hearing if the arrest was for a felony and there isn’t an indictment
- the right to bail (the court must also set bail if it hasn’t been set yet), and
- the right to a jury trial and the need to file a jury demand for certain offenses.
Timing of Arraignment
The initial appearance for a misdemeanor may include arraignment. But defendants in felony cases cannot enter a plea during an initial appearance—full arraignment must occur later. (Ohio Crim. R. 5.) Also, in both misdemeanor and felony cases, the court cannot hold arraignment until the defendant receives a copy of the charging document and has had a reasonable opportunity to file objections to the charges.
Consult a Lawyer
If you’ve been arrested, whether or not you’ve been to court yet, seek the help of a knowledgeable attorney. Only such a lawyer can properly advise you of the applicable law and enforce your rights.