An arraignment is a court proceeding where a criminal defendant is formally advised of charges. The judge then asks the defendant, “how do you plead?” and the defendant answers either “not guilty” or “guilty.”
People often mistakenly believe an arraignment is part of a criminal trial. However, it is many steps removed from the trial.
Your arraignment is one of the first court proceedings you will encounter if you have been arrested. Its purpose is to give you written notice of the crimes with which you are being charged and to take your plea.
If you have been arrested, the state must hold your arraignment within a reasonable period after your arrest. It must take place within 48 hours – as ordered by the Supreme Court.
You are protected by this ruling from sitting in jail for an unreasonable amount of time while the state finds evidence against you.
Formal charges and your plea comprise the most critical part of arraignment. However, several other things happen at this court procedure.
If jail time is a possible outcome of your charges and you are eligible for a court-appointed attorney, the judge may appoint counsel for you at this hearing.
You can also ask for a continuance, or delay, of your arraignment if you aren’t eligible for a court-appointed attorney and you want more time to hire an attorney.
At an arraignment, the judge can set your bail and the conditions of your bail if you haven’t already had a bail hearing or posted bond. The prosecutor can also argue for your bail to be revoked if new evidence is discovered that the state feels justifies revoking bail.
Future Hearings Dates
Depending on your plea, the severity of your charges and potential penalties, and the arguments the state and your defense attorney intend to use; the judge may set court dates for other hearings.
Hearings for pretrial motions consist of both sides making and responding to motions. Motions are just documents setting forth the arguments each side is preparing to use in or before trial.
The arraignment judge may also schedule a plea bargain discussion meeting or a preliminary hearing before another judge.
Entering Your Plea
One essential aspect of an arraignment is your plea. Most defense lawyers will advise you to enter a plea of not guilty even if you are guilty of all or some part of the charges against you.
Entering a not guilty plea means the state must produce the evidence it has against you. In addition, it allows your attorney to form a solid defense.
In most cases, both sides expect defendants to enter pleas of not guilty.
Alternately, if the charges against you are minor, you may choose to enter a guilty or “no contest” plea. A no contest plea says you recognize the state has enough evidence to convict you. However, you are not admitting guilt for the crime.
If you decide to enter one of these pleas, the judge may sentence you at the arraignment.
The Arraignment Atmosphere
Arraignments are very different from trials. When you are encountering the criminal justice system, an arraignment can be very stressful and confusing.
The courtroom is often crowded with lawyers and defendants waiting for their cases to be called.
A judge may be working on several cases at once, and lawyers and judges often use abbreviations or codes unknown to the average person. Even if you have hired a lawyer or had one appointed, it is your right and duty to ask that everything be explained to you.
An arraignment can be downright scary for someone who doesn’t have legal counsel working on his or her behalf.
Partner With an Experienced Criminal Attorney
If you are about to be arraigned for criminal charges, it’s in your best interest to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Make sure you understand everything that’s happening and come out on top.
Contact my office for a free consultation.