If you're charged with a crime and there's even a small possibility that jail time could be involved, your first court appearance will be a chance for you to tell the court what kind of attorney you'd like to represent you. You'll be called in front of the judge and the judge will ask whether you'd like a court appointed attorney, whether you'd like to hire your own attorney, or whether you'd like to represent yourself. After you make your decision, the judge will inform you of the trial date and you will be released.
If your case does not carry the possibility of jail time, your first court appearance will be the trial date. The judge will call your name and you'll have to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Then the judge will hear the evidence from the person that is accusing you of violating the law--usually a police officer. After the evidence against you is presented, you will have a chance to present evidence in your defense.
Even if your case does not carry the possibility of jail time, you can still tell the judge that you'd like to hire an attorney. In that case, the judge will continue the case and inform you of the trial date. The judge will not be able to advise you about whether you should hire an attorney. You should make that decision before your first court date. If you need more time to make that decision, most judges will give you some time, but some may not.
What Kinds of Charges Carry the Possibility of Jail Time?
The kinds of charges that carry the possibility of jail time are
Assault & Battery
Reckless driving (at high speeds)
Driving on a suspended license (2nd offense)
Brandishing a firearm
Reckless handling of a firearm
What Kinds of Charges Usually Do Not Carry the Possibility of Jail Time?
The kinds of charges that generally do not carry the possibility of jail time are
Reckless driving (at lower speeds)
Driving on a suspended license (1st offense)
Driving without a valid license (1st offense)
Possession of marijuana (1st offense)
Some of the charges that I've listed above, can carry jail time. But in most cases, the prosecutor or the police officer will not be asking for any jail time. For example, reckless driving carries a maximum of 12 months in jail, but usually jail time is only on the table at very high speeds or when a car accident is involved. Traffic tickets, on the other hand, never carry jail time. The maximum penalty for traffic tickets is a fine.
If you're not sure at your case, you should contact an attorney so that you understand what you're facing.