Most people arrested for marijuana in the District are released from the police station with a “citation to appear” in D.C. Superior Court about 10 days later.
If more serious charges are involved, the defendant has a prior criminal record, or there are allegations of distribution, a defendant may be held overnight in jail, and see the judge the next morning.
If you’re currently on probation or parole from an earlier case, you may be held in jail pending a hearing on whether you be released in your new case.
Both those released, and those held overnight, appear before a judge in courtroom C-10, beginning at 10 a.m., on the lower level of the Superior Court, 500 Indiana Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20001.
Look for your name on a TV monitor outside the courtroom. If you don’t see your name posted, check with the CJA office, or the Pretrial Services office, both also located on the “C” level of the courthouse. The list of those in lock-up is augmented throughout the day, as new arrestees are processed.
A defendant’s first appearance in court is called an “arraignment.” That’s when an official copy of the charges will be provided, along with a “discovery” package, consisting of various police reports. Arraignments are held 6 days a week, Monday – Saturday, including most holidays.
Although a police officer may arrest a person for marijuana or other controlled substances, only the U.S. Attorney’s office can file the official document which kicks off the official prosecution. (For felonies, the grand jury votes on whether to charge by way of indictment).
When the U.S. Attorney declines to prosecute, the case is “no papered,” and formal proceedings are at an end. A “no paper” is without prejudice, which means that the case can be brought at a later date, but this rarely occurs in small marijuana cases.
If the case is “papered,” the judge will want to know which lawyer will be representing you. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you will be sent to be interviewed for eligibility for a public defender. If you intend to hire your own lawyer, he should be at your arraignment. You may also ask the judge for additional time to hire a lawyer.
The judge at arraignment will establish “conditions of release,” which may include urine screening for drugs or alcohol, a “stay away” from a particular person or location, electronic monitoring, or a curfew. Your lawyer will be able to argue for the least restrictive conditions, or bring any issues concerning your release conditions to the judge’s attention.
Cash bonds and professional bondsman are now rarely used in Superior Court. As a general rule, if you have been released from the police station, and you show up on time for your arraignment, you will be released again on your own personal recognizance to return for your next court date.
If you were held overnight following your arrest, you are likely to be released at arraignment, if you don’t have other pending charges, and are not on probation or parole. For more serious charges, or if you are currently on probation or parole, the judge may hold you, and set a further hearing to consider your ties to the community and the safety of others, before making a decision on whether to grant release.
After you leave courtroom C-10, you will be required to verify your address with Pretrial Services, also on the “C” level of the Courthouse. Suitable verification consists of a piece of U.S. Mail sent to your address of record within the past 30 days. If you don’t have recent mail, you can ask Pretrial Services to mail a letter to you, which you can then use as your proof of address.
Most defendants arrested for marijuana or other controlled substances are ordered to provide a urine sample following arraignment, to test for drugs or alcohol. A testing facility is located on the “C” level of the courthouse. If you are taking any prescription medications, you can present your prescription, or pill container, as verification, to prevent the possibility of your medication creating a false positive. Medical marijuana prescriptions from California, Colorado or elsewhere are not recognized in D.C.
If you didn’t hire a lawyer prior to the arraignment, or the lawyer you did hire is unavailable, the judge may ask another lawyer in the courtroom to “stand in” for your counsel, for the purposes of setting dates and release conditions. If you didn’t hire a lawyer, it’s not too late. You can hire one between arraignment and your next court date.
Other than confirming your name and address, and agreeing to return on the next court date, you will not be asked any questions and should not make any statements. You should not talk about the facts of your case with anyone other than your own attorney, including the arraignment judge. Everything said in court is recorded, and can be used against you by the government. Don’t make any statements.
The typical arraignment takes only 3 to 5 minutes, once your case is called. But it is not unusual to spend several hours at the courthouse to complete the entire arraignment and release process. Most people who are in court on a “citation to appear” will be done by lunch time.
Everyone entering the Superior Court is searched at a security screening checkpoint for metal objects, contraband and electronic recording devices, which are prohibited. Security lines can be long, particularly in the morning. A rear entrance on “C” Street usually has the shortest lines, but you should allow 30 minutes to clear security during the busiest times. Judges usually take a dim view of clients who are late. Business or business-casual attire is always appropriate.
If you fail to appear at arraignment, or are late, the judge may issue a “bench warrant” for your arrest. If you have a warrant outstanding for your arrest, you should contact an attorney promptly.
Zukerberg Law Center, PLLC