Things You Should Expect and Request of Criminal Courts

  1. Clear notice of your right to counsel before the entry of any plea, and access to a public defender if you are facing jail time and cannot afford to pay for one.
  2. Enough time and contact with your public defender that they understand your case and can adequately represent you.
  3. A speedy and public trial.
  4. No jailing of people who cannot pay court debts.
  5. No revocation of driver’s licenses for inability to pay court debts.

Pre-trial holding

Q.Pre-trial holding
A.
  • You cannot be held in jail forever, under the law.
  • You must be taken to a judge or magistrate for your first appearance without unnecessary delay. Arkansas has not set a specific time limit, though there is a general 48-hour rule.
  • Your phone calls to anyone but your attorney will likely be recorded by the jail. Your mail to or from anyone but your attorney may also be read.

First Appearance/Probable Cause Hearing

Q.First Appearance/Probable Cause Hearing
A.

At the probable cause hearing, the judge should advise you of the following:

  • The charges against you and the potential range of jail time and/or fines.
  • You should be asked if you understand the nature of the charges and the potential punishment. Do not discuss or dispute the facts at this point, because anything you say can be used against you.
  • If you face possible jail time, you have a right to counsel, or a public defender may be appointed at no cost if you cannot afford counsel (though you may be assessed fees).
  • You have a right to communicate with your counsel, family, and friends, and reasonable means should be provided for you to do so; and
  • The amount of your bail, if you are eligible.

What is bail and how is it determined?

Q.What is bail and how is it determined?
A.
  • Bail (also referred to as Bond) is giving the court something of value that guarantees you will appear before the court for trial at a later date.
  • Bail should be set only if the judge determines it is necessary to ensure you will appear in court, or if the judge determines it is necessary for the protection of the public, victims, or potential witnesses. The judge may look at whether you have failed to appear before any court in the past in determining bail.
  • The judge may choose to set a cash bond or a surety bond.
    • A cash bond must be paid in full, and whoever pays is responsible for your appearance in court. This money may be forfeited if you fail to appear in court.
    • A surety bond is a bail that is paid or pledged by another person, usually a bail bondsperson, offering money or a valuable piece of property as collateral. This person is then responsible for making sure you appear in court. If you use bail bond company, you will not get your money back or have what you paid the company credit toward your fines and fees. Additionally, bail bondspersons are not bound by the same rules as the police. For example, they might enter your home without a warrant if you fail to appear in court.

 

How to post bail/bond

Q.How to post bail/bond
A.
  • If the judge sets bail at a certain dollar amount, you may pay that amount.
    • If convicted, this payment may be used to pay any fines or court costs.
  • If the judge sets a surety bond, the person assuring your appearance must be a licensed bail bondsman or a resident of Arkansas owning property greater than the value of their debts and the amount of bail. A bond company will usually ask that you pay ten percent of the bond set by the judge.
  • Officials that can accept bond:
    • If at court: a judge, magistrate, or court clerk.
    • If held in a county jail: a sheriff or deputy.
    • If held in a city jail: a designated police officer.
  • Any official who accepts a bond must provide a pre-numbered receipt showing the value of all the collateral offered as bond.

Right to Counsel

Q.Right to Counsel
A.

If you face possible jail time, you have a right to have an attorney give you advice on your case, and advocate for you in court.

What if I lack the financial resources to hire an attorney?

  • You may qualify to have appointed counsel (also known as a public defender) represent you.

  • To establish this lack of financial resources, you will have to complete an Affidavit of Indigency, which is provided to you by the court in which you are charged. You should complete this form fully and truthfully, including income and expenses. If you receive public assistance, you should note this. 

What if the judge tells me that I do not qualify to have a public defender appointed to me?

  •  Write to the Public Defender Commission. See Resources section for mailing address.

What if my attorney is not adequately representing me?

  • Write to the attorney and try to find out why. Keep a written record of your contacts and attempts to contact counsel.
  • You may file a complaint with the following agencies, but know that this is unlikely to get you any fast relief concerning your relationship with counsel.
    • Office of Professional Conduct,
    • Public Defender Commission, and
    • ACLU of Arkansas (See Resources section for contact information.)
  • If you have hired counsel, you may seek a different attorney. If you are appointed counsel, the court would have to appoint sometime else, which is rare.

 

Plea

Q.Plea
A.

This is your response to the charges brought against you.

  • You should not be required to plead until you have had an opportunity to retain an attorney (or have an attorney appointed if eligible) unless you have waived the right to an attorney or refused your attorney’s assistance.

Right to a Speedy Trial

Q.Right to a Speedy Trial
A.

If your case has not been tried within a certain time, it should be dismissed for lack of speedy trial.

  • In Arkansas the prosecution has
    • 12 months to bring you to trial if you are not incarcerated, or
    • 9 months if you are incarcerated.
  • However, if you or your lawyer asks for more time to prepare your case, that time will not count as a delay of your right to a speedy trial.
  • Time for speedy trial begins when the probable cause hearing is held. This is when bond is set and counsel is appointed.

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