Arrest & Initial Appearance
Soon after your arrest, agents will bring you to court before a magistrate judge. The charges against you will be set forth in a complaint with an affidavit that summarizes the evidence against you, or in an indictment returned by a grand jury. The magistrate judge will explain your rights and make sure that you understand what the government claims you did. If you cannot afford an attorney, you will fill out a financial form (signed under penalty of perjury) to show that you cannot afford to hire your own lawyer. If the magistrate finds that you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, either an Assistant Federal Defender (AFD), or a member of the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) panel will be appointed to represent you. You always have the right to hire a lawyer of your choice, even if the magistrate initially appoints an AFD or a CJA lawyer.
Once the prosecutor files an indictment against you, you will appear in court to be arraigned on the formal charges. If you were indicted before you were arrested, your initial appearance and arraignment will happen at the same time. The magistrate will ask if you understand what the prosecutor claims that you did. You then will be asked to enter a plea to the charges. Unless you have previously worked out an agreed resolution with the prosecution before your arraignment, generally you will enter a not guilty plea at your arraignment. Your case then will be assigned to the district judge who will preside over the rest of your case. At this point, you will work in close consultation with your attorney and your defense team as your case progresses.