How many times will I have to show up in court?

While it isn't the first question most people have, at some point you want to know how many times you are going to have to take off from work and appear in court. Like most things, the answer is it depends.

Misdemeanors

Generally you are going to have show up fewer times for less serious charges. After you are arrested you are given a court date in McLennan County. That is an appearance date, and is mainly for tracking purposes. If you hire a lawyer before this date, you don't have to show up. Instead, your lawyer will call in and enter an appearance for you. Depending on what you have discussed, they may put the case on the trial docket or the plea docket. Those designations are not final, since you usually don't know what you are going to do at this  point. 

If the case is set on the trial docket you will get a pre-trial date. That is a date where the court takes announcements, and either assigns a trial date, or schedules a date to hear pre-trial matters. If an agreement is reached the case can also be set for a plea. Many times the case will be passed, and you will receive another pre-trial date. You do have to appear for these pre-trial hearings. Sometimes there may be only one, while in other cases there may be multiple hearings.

If the case is set for  plea, you will get a court date - which is always on Thursdays. Those dates are often re-set, but you don't have to be present for that.

Some people only have to show up for court one time - when they enter a plea. Others may have to show up several times if the case is set on the trial. However, rarely will you have to show up more than 3-4 times.

Felonies

As you might guess, felonies are entirely different. Your obligation to show up in court doesn't start until your case is indicted. Once that occurs you are given an arraignment date. You can waive that by signing a written document, and avoid having to show up in court. Once that is done, the case is set for trial, and you will get a date for an announcement docket. The purpose of that hearing is to ensure that your lawyer and the district attorney talk about your case and see if it can be resolved. If you reach an agreement, it will be set for a plea. If not, it will be set for trial. Many times you need more time, and the case will be set for another announcement docket. As of the time of writing this  post (October 31, 2013) you don't have to appear for these dockets. Instead, your lawyer will take care of that, and submit the necessary form.

If the case is set for a plea, you will have to show up for that. If the plea agreement is for probation, you will not be sentenced then. Instead, a pre-sentence report will be ordered, and you will be given a new date to come back for sentencing. 

If the case is set for a trial, you will get a pre-trial date. You must show up for this. At the pre-trial, the case will either be numbered for trial or passed. If it is numbered for trial, a status hearing will be set for the following week. The process here varies according to which court you are in. If you are in the 19th District Court you don't have to show up for the status hearing. If your case is not reached when it is set for trial and another pre-trial date is set you also don't have to show up for that. If your case is in the 54th District Court though you must show up for all your court settings. 

Even if your case is set for trial it is probably not going the first time it is set. For the most part, priority is given to the oldest cases, and the people who have been in jail the longest. It is not uncommon for cases to be set on the pre-trial multiple times. If you are in the 54th, that means you may have to multiple court appearances - sometimes as many as 10 or  more. 

CAUTION - The above information is specific for McLennan County and Waco. Each county handles their docket differently, and as you see even courts in the same county may handle their docket differently. If you are in another county you need to talk to your lawyer to make sure you understand how the system works there.

No matter whether you have to show up in court once, or multiple times, it is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that you show up each and every time - and ON TIME. If you don't show up, or show up late, your bond can be forfeited and you may spend the rest of time in jail while waiting for your case to be reached.

Walter Reaves
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Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 30 years.