Appearing in court can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. Perhaps the worst feeling is not knowing whether you could end up in jail. While obviously a scary potential, incarceration usually only occurs at specific times that you will know about in advance of the court date. It is important to keep in touch with your criminal defense attorney, so you are aware if going to jail is possible.

I Have A Court Appearance; Will I Go To Jail?

Usually, incarceration can happen at two (2) specific times: the first court appearance or the last court appearance. The first time you should be concerned about potentially have to spend any time in jail is at the bail/bond hearing which happens right at the very beginning of your case known as the arraignment. The second is at your sentencing, which is usually the last time you appear in court. These are the primary occasions when incarceration occurs. Note however that if you violate any of the terms of your bail release, or if you are rearrested while your case is pending, you may also be put in jail, and that can happen at any time.

When Does The Court Decide On Bail Status Or Jail?

The first, and most common, time a court can set bail is at your arraignment or your first court appearance. In New York, you must be represented by an attorney for a court to send you to jail at your arraignment. That might be a public defender if you cannot hire a criminal defense lawyer prior to your required appearance, but regardless, there must be an attorney there on your behalf before a judge can put you in jail. When deciding if you should be released during the court appearance the court must consider many different circumstances such as your criminal history, the seriousness of the charges, and whether, and how much, you can afford to pay for bail.

Once you are released, either on your own recognizance (nothing but the promise to return when required), with conditions (such as curfew, or drug treatment), or with bail/bond (a monetary amount you pay while your case is pending), the court should not change that release status at any point in the future unless you get rearrested, fail to appear in court when required, or ignore some order the court has set at the time of your release. In other words, without a change in circumstances, the court will not alter your release status.

What Can Impact My Bail/Bond Status And Result In Incarceration?

Your bail can be revoked and you can be placed in jail if you miss a court date. Missing a required court date can result in a bench warrant, revocation or changing of a bail status, and incarceration until the end of your case. It is important for you to appear in court whenever you are required to be there. Under new criminal laws in New York State, the court is supposed to notify you 24-48 hours prior to court, usually by automated call, email, text, or by mail, depending on your chosen preference.

Moreover, if you are arrested for a new crime while your case is pending, no matter how minor, your release status can be impacted.  This would not include minor offenses such as a traffic ticket.

If I Plead Guilty, Will I Go To Jail?

Maybe, but if you are going to jail, your criminal lawyer should have spoken to you about it well before your court appearance. If part of your plea bargain includes jail/prison or a possible jail/prison sentence, you should be prepared to go into custody at that sentencing hearing. However, for sentences over 180 days, or for any state prison sentence, more often than not a presentence investigation report is required prior to sentencing. Talk to your criminal attorney about what such an investigation requires, but they usually take 6 to 8 weeks after your plea to complete. In other words, if you plead guilty, you typically remain free while a presentence report is prepared, and then have a future court date where your sentence would be imposed.

Note that it may be possible for your attorney to work with the court and choose a “report date” or a date and time agreeable for you to surrender to the correctional facility for your sentence if jail is part of the deal. This is something that should be negotiated in advance by your criminal attorney, if possible.

I Am Going To Court For My Sentencing, Will I Go To Jail?

If you are appearing for sentencing, you will only go to jail if it is part of negotiated plea bargain, or if you were convicted after a trial, in which case you may or may not go to jail.

If I Go To Trial And Am Convicted, Will I Go To Jail?

If you go to trial in front of a judge or jury, there will come a time when there is a deliberation and verdict. If there is any guilty verdict you are no longer presumed innocent of the charge(s) against you and the court may remand you, or in other words, hold you in jail without the ability to pay for your release, while you await sentencing. In such event, you would be receiving credit for that time towards your impending sentence.

If I Know I Have To Go To Jail, Can I Go In Before My Sentencing Date?

If you know that a jail sentence is forthcoming in your case, there may be a reason you wish to serve it sooner rather than later. For example, if you have agreed to a 30-day sentence (which you would actually only serve 20 days), but your plea/sentencing cannot occur for 2 to 3 months you might prefer to do that time now, perhaps because of a work reason, or because it will allow you to be present for an important birthday or holiday. In such a case, a court may be willing to set bail, with the understanding you will agree not to pay it, and on the appropriate day (20 days in the above example) the court can order your release, or you can post your bail. Then, at sentencing, you could be sentenced to “time served” instead of the 30-day sentence.