When Is a Defendant Required to Personally Appear in Court?
Being charged with a crime is a tremendously stressful situation. A substantial amount of time, effort, and energy may be spent fighting the allegations and clearing one’s name. Going to court is time consuming. There may be multiple court appearances throughout the process, which may take up significant time and impact one’s ability to work or focus on other important obligations such as family. This is particularly true when someone who is just visiting California or is planning to move to a different state is charged with a crime, and their personal appearance would require significant travel.
In California, whether a defendant in a criminal case who is represented by an attorney is required to personally appear in court may depend on the type of charge, whether they are charged with a felony or misdemeanor, the type of crime, and the circumstances of their case. California Penal Code section 977 provides the statutory authority for a defendant’s attorney to appear in court on their behalf in certain situations and circumstances.Penal Code Section 977
California Penal Code section 977 provides statutory authority for a defendant in a criminal case to waive their appearance and have their attorney appear on their behalf under certain circumstances. Penal Code section 977 states in pertinent part:
Penal Code Section 977 and Misdemeanor Proceedings
“(a)(1) In all cases in which the accused is charged with a misdemeanor only, they may appear by counsel only, except as provide in paragraphs (2) and (3). If the accused agrees, the initial court appearance, arraignment, and plea may be by video, as provided by subdivision (c).
(2) If the accused is charged with a misdemeanor offense involving domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211 of the Family Code, or a misdemeanor violation of Section 273.6, the accused shall be present for arraignment and sentencing, and at any time during the proceedings when ordered by the court for the purpose of being informed of the conditions of a protective order issued pursuant to Section 136.2.
(3) If the accused is charged with a misdemeanor offense involving driving under the influence, in an appropriate case, the court may order a defendant to be present for arraignment, at the time of plea, or at sentencing…
(b)(1) Except as provided in subdivision (c), in all cases in which a felony is charged, the accused shall be personally present at the arraignment, at the time of plea, during the preliminary hearing, during those portions of the trial when evidence is taken before the trier of fact, and at the time of the imposition of sentence. The accused shall be personally present at all other proceedings unless they shall, with leave of court, execute in open court, a written waiver of their right to be personally present, as provided by paragraph (2). If the accused agrees, the initial court appearance, arraignment, and plea may be by video, as provided by subdivision (c).
(2) The accused may execute a written waiver of their right to be personally present, approved by their counsel, and the waiver shall be filed with the court. However, the court may specifically direct the defendant to be personally present at any particular proceeding or portion thereof….”
In California, a represented defendant in a criminal case has the statutory right to be absent from his or her proceeding(s) and allow his or her attorney to handle it. California Penal Code section 977(a)(1) states that “In all cases in which the accused is charged with a misdemeanor only, he or she may appear by counsel only….”
There are certain exceptions to this rule. For instance, if the defendant is charged with a domestic violence offense, he or she will need to be present for arraignment and sentencing, and any other time when ordered by the court for the express purpose of being informed of any conditions of a protective order. However, there may even be exceptions to this requirement. Sometimes, a court may allow the attorney to appear in these circumstances by allowing the defendant to appear remotely via video or audio, or by allowing the attorney to accept the protective order on behalf of the defendant and provide the court with proof on another date that the defendant received the protective order.
The other exception to Penal Code section 977, in which the court can require a misdemeanor defendant to personally appear is for DUI cases at arraignment and sentencing. Again, there may be workarounds to this exception. Certain courts allow the attorney to submit notarized plea forms or other documents on behalf of their client.Penal Code Section 977 and Felony Proceedings
In California, a represented defendant in a criminal case may be permitted to have their attorney appear on their behalf in certain situations as long as the Court agrees. However, in felony matters, a defendant will need to be personally present at the time of arraignment, trial, plea, and sentencing.
There may be exceptions to these requirements. For instance, sometimes, a court may allow a defendant who resides out of state to appear remotely via video or phone for a plea or sentencing. The court in such an instance, may require a notarized plea form or other documents.
If you or a family member has been charged with a crime and is facing felony or misdemeanor charges out of Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, or Ventura County, it is imperative that you hire the best attorney that you can to explore all options available. Attorney Michael Kraut has extensive experience defending clients in all types of criminal cases throughout Southern and Central California and has helped them to secure the absolute best result.
For more information about California Penal Code section 977, and to schedule your free consultation, contact attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.