16 May 23

What is an arraignment? What happens at the arraignment hearing?

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Last Updated on: 3rd June 2023, 09:15 pm

An In-Depth Look at Arraignments: What You Absolutely Must Know

Facing criminal charges is an incredibly daunting experience, and it all starts with the crucial step of an arraignment. This first formal court proceeding serves to inform the accused of the charges against them and educates them about their constitutional rights. If you find yourself embroiled in a criminal case, a comprehensive understanding of the arraignment process is essential.

What Occurs During an Arraignment?

The primary objective of an arraignment is to inform the defendant of the charges and afford them an opportunity to enter a plea. Typically, the accused can enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. There are also specific pleas, such as former judgment of conviction or acquittal, double jeopardy, and not guilty by reason of insanity.

If a defense attorney is present during the hearing, they may waive the right to have the charges read aloud in court, opting instead to inform the judge that their client is already aware of the allegations.

Moreover, defendants must be made explicitly aware of every constitutional right they possess, including the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, the right against self-incrimination, the right to counsel, the right to reasonable bail or bond, and the right to a speedy trial.

Throughout an arraignment, individuals may face charges for misdemeanors (punishable by up to one year in county jail), infractions (not punishable by imprisonment), or felonies (punishable by imprisonment or death).

Pleading Guilty: Can You Do It at an Arraignment?

Yes, you can plead guilty during an arraignment. However, it is crucial to comprehend that the hearing is not designed to provide an opportunity for sharing your side of the story. The main purpose of the arraignment is to ensure the accused comprehends the charges held against them and that they are well-versed in their constitutional rights.

Some judges might accept a guilty plea with an explanation when they reach the point where they inquire as to how you wish to plead. In such instances, defendants have an opportunity to make a brief statement. If you require more time to consult with a lawyer, it is also acceptable to request a continuation of the arraignment.

For defendants charged with infractions, you may decide to post bail and plead not guilty via mail. It’s worth noting that California law mandates authorities to inform defendants about the potential immigration consequences of a guilty plea, which may include deportation or the denial of naturalization.

Attorney Presence at Arraignments: What Are Your Rights?

Yes, you are absolutely allowed to have legal representation at your arraignment, even if you’re facing misdemeanor charges. Conversely, individuals dealing with felony charges must appear in court, unless they are in custody, wherein video arraignments are permissible.

Is Negotiating a Criminal Case Before Arraignment Possible?

Yes, skilled criminal defense attorneys may negotiate a resolution before your case proceeds to arraignment. Proactive pre-filing investigations could result in the dismissal of a case before it is officially filed.

Potential Issues during the Arraignment Process

One possible issue that may arise during the arraignment is having the judge set a bail amount that far exceeds what you anticipated. Alternatively, the court may order your release on your own recognizance but impose strict release conditions.

It is crucial to note that California implemented cash bail law changes in early 2021 which eliminated the need for individuals accused of minor crimes to post bail for release. Unfortunately, these changes were suspended due to the November 2020 ballot referendum.

About the Author

Neil Shouse is a highly accomplished lawyer and former Los Angeles prosecutor who completed his law studies at UC Berkeley, MIT, and Harvard Law School. He is recognized among the Top 100 criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys by the National Trial Lawyers and has been featured in prominent news channels such as Good Morning America, CNN, and Dr. Phil. His wealth of legal knowledge and experience ensure that your understanding of the arraignment process is comprehensive and accurate.

What is an arraignment? What happens at the arraignment hearing?

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