How An Appearance Works

In the context of law, an appearance refers to the act of coming into court. The court can require the accused, otherwise known as the defendant, or the plaintiff, also known as the prosecution or complainant, to make an appearance. Someone can make an appearance in person or through an attorney representing them.

Some situations allow a defendant to make an appearance virtually or by mail. For example, someone with a traffic ticket can send a check for the fine via mail.

Outside the context of law, appearance refers to the way someone or something looks. It also means the act of participating or performing in an event.

Real-World Example Of An Appearance

The court can require someone to make an appearance by issuing a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order requiring an individual or business not directly within the case to do something connected with a lawsuit. It does not require a signature by a judge or clerk, so sometimes only a lawyer will sign it. Lawyers will often use a subpoena to ask a witness to take the stand.

The California Code, Code of Civil Procedure - CCP § 2020.220 provides information on the requirements of appearing in court after a subpoena. The law indicates that a subpoena can require personal attendance and testimony in the court by someone who has provided out-of-court witness testimony or evidence. The court will often issue a subpoena if the deponent refuses to show up in court, be sworn in, or answer questions.

Significance Of Appearances

If someone is charged with a crime, a court appearance is important to move a case forward. The initial appearance allows the court to inform the defendant of their charges and appoint a public attorney if they cannot afford one.

The defendant or their lawyer representing them must appear in court for all stages of a case. The process of criminal cases at limited jurisdiction courts in the United States move forward after an initial appearance as follows:

  • Arraignment where the accused pleas guilty or not guilty.
  • Trial if the accused pleas not guilty. A judge and sometimes a jury will hear evidence and decide if the accused is guilty.
  • Sentencing where the judge provides the appropriate punishment if the accused is found guilty.

Types Of Appearances

The two most common types of appearances are general and special appearance. Often the difference is, in a general appearance, the defendant recognizes the court's jurisdiction, but a special appearance occurs to challenge the court's jurisdiction over the defendant. A defendant will make a special appearance for limited purposes. Another example is to challenge the adequacy of the service of process.

The court may also submit a withdrawal if an appearance request was made by mistake or after an amended complaint. Withdrawals are treated as if no appearance was entered into the case. A defendant withdrawn from a general appearance may file for a special appearance to challenge the court.

Another type of appearance that exists in certain states is a limited appearance. This type of appearance occurs during quasi in rem jurisdiction lawsuits where the court has power over a defendant's property within its jurisdiction. The court must find a connection between the property and the lawsuit's subject matter to involve this.

Appearance vs. Arraignment

While the term appearance refers to anytime someone charged with a crime shows up to court, an arraignment only occurs for a specific purpose. During an arraignment, the defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty. A defendant must make an appearance for arraignment, but not all appearances are arraignments.

An arraignment usually follows an initial appearance or preliminary hearing. However, sometimes limited jurisdiction courts will combine an arraignment with the initial appearance. At an initial hearing, the court will explain the charges to the defendant and appoint them a lawyer if they need one.