Your first court appearance is call the "arraignment". No evidence or argument is presented at the arraignment. This is not the day for your trial. The arraignment is a formality, where your attorney will receive copies of the complaint (the document that explains the charges), and the initial discovery (police reports). In most cases, you are not entitled to receive copies of the police report until the arraignment. This is your attorney's first opportunity to read the details of the accusations against you.
At the arraignment, you may either plead "guilty" and resolve your case on the spot, or you may plead "not guilty". If you plead "not guilty", then further court appearances will be scheduled. These subsequent appearances are called "pretrial hearings". At pretrial hearings, your attorney will meet with the DA to discuss the evidence and will attempt to negotiate a fair deal to dispose of your case (after your attorney has had a chance to thoroughly read the police reports).
You should make damn sure that you show up on time when you appear for the arraignment. Every courtroom has its own specific procedures for conducting arraignments. Most courtrooms start the morning with an "advisement of rights". This is what it sounds like. They will explain the various legal and constitutional rights that apply during the criminal process. Some courtrooms lock the doors during the presentation to ensure that everyone hears this important information. If you show up one minute late, you will be locked out, a warrant will be issued for your arrest, and you'll have to come back another day. Give yourself plenty of time to park and to go through the security screening.
Dress appropriately when you appear in court. This should go without saying, but I'm amazed at the clothing I see in court every day. Your arraignment is the most important thing you'll do today -- dress accordingly. Wear long pants (not shredded jeans or yoga pants) and closed-toe shoes. Put on a collared shirt. There is no such thing as overdressing for court. Act like you're taking your case seriously. Courts have dress codes. If your attire is not appropriate, you may be kicked out and told to come back another day. Simply dressing appropriately is the easiest part of "preparing" for your arraignment.
To recap, here's how you can prepare for your first appearance in criminal court:
- Retain a qualified, local attorney
- Show up on time
- Dress appropriately