Wyoming law provides that after a person is arrested, law enforcement must present him or her to a judicial officer “without unnecessary delay.” (Wyo. R. Crim. P. 5.) The law is designed to prevent police from holding an arrestee in custody without the prompt opportunity to appear before a judge. (The appearance can occur via video conference, rather than in person.)
(For more general information on initial court appearances, see Arraignment: Getting to Court.)
“Unnecessary delay” doesn’t have a precise definition. (Cherniwchan v. State, 594 P.2d (1979).) How long is reasonable depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. But the government faces at least one concrete deadline after an arrest without a warrant: If it hasn’t done so earlier, it must, without unnecessary delay, but at the latest, within 72 hours of arrest, prove to a judge that there was probable cause for the arrest. It must prove probable cause either through a signed statement or live testimony. Otherwise, the authorities must release the arrestee. (Wyo. R. Crim. P. 5.)
If law enforcement or the prosecution violates the “unnecessary delay” rule, the charges against the defendant won’t necessarily be dismissed. Instead, like the law in most states, Wyoming law provides that evidence obtained as a result of an unreasonably delayed court appearance—for example, a confession—will be excluded from the case. (Cherniwchan v. State, 594 P.2d 464 (Wyo. 1979).)
Misdemeanors and Felonies
Misdemeanors in Wyoming are heard in the circuit courts. District courts handle felony cases. Defendants facing misdemeanor charges may be arraigned at the initial appearance in circuit court.
At arraignment, the judge informs the defendant of the charges and asks him or her to enter a plea. Before being asked to plead, the defendant must receive a copy of the information or citation and any related sworn statements. The judge must also inform the defendant:
- of the right to counsel, retained or appointed
- of the right to silence, and that any statements may be used against the defendant
- of the right to a jury trial, and
- if the defendant is in jail, of what he or she can do to get out (for example, post bail).
At initial appearances involving felony charges, the court must give the defendant the same documents (including a copy of the indictment if the case involves a grand jury) and information, except that the judge will mention the right to a preliminary examination, rather than a jury trial. The judge must give the defendant a reasonable chance to consult with counsel.
Defendants typically plead not guilty at initial court appearances. For some of the reasons why, see How should I plead at arraignment?
Get a Lawyer
If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, you should contact a criminal defense attorney in your area as soon as possible. An experienced lawyer can:
- fully advise you of the applicable law
- guide you through the court process
- assist in trying to get you out of jail, and
- advise you regarding charges, penalties, and any potential defenses.