What Is An Arraignment?
An arraignment is the process by which the defendant is read specific charges against him. It is the first step in the criminal process after arrest. It is a brief hearing. All arraignments are conducted after the suspect is arrested and booked by law enforcement. An arraignment takes place only after the prosecuting attorney decides to file charges.
What Will Happen At The Arraignment And What Must The Defendant Do?
At the arraignment the defendant will appear before a judge. The defendant is always advised to bring private legal counsel. An arraignment is the time where the judge will ask if the person appearing is the person identified in the charges. In addition, the judge will ask whether the defendant will plead not guilty or guilty/no contest. It is highly unusual that a defendant would enter a guilty plea at the arraignment. At the Law Offices of Jeff Voll we almost always advise a client to never plea/take a deal at arraignment.
At an arraignment:
- The defendant usually will be provided with a written allegation(s) from the prosecutor (a complaint).
- The defendant will be asked to acknowledge his identity.
- The defendant may have private counsel present or the court may appoint a public defender.
The defendant may be told his possible punishment. The possible punishment is not a reflection on the case or the judges view of the case or the defendant.
If charged with a misdemeanor, the defendant is required to reply to the written charges with a plea of either guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere (no contest). If charged with a felony, the defendant may or may not be required to reply with a plea at the initial arraignment. (The policy of presenting a plea at a felony arraignment is different state-by-state).
In a misdemeanor case, the judge will set the defendant's tentative appearance schedule. In a felony case, the judge will set the defendant's tentative preliminary hearing. (Not all states have preliminary hearings. Some convene a grand jury to find probable cause.)
Bail is established. The defendant has a right to argue for a bail reduction.
Discovery is usually presented to the defense attorney. Discovery usually consists of a police repzort and a complaint. This varies by state. Some states do not provide discovery until after the preliminary hearing or indictment.
If the defendant enters a plea of guilty or no contest at the arraignment, the judge may sentence the defendant at that time.
In Mallory v. United States, 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an arraignment should take place as "quickly as possible". Each state views a speedy arraignment differently. Consult with an attorney to identify how quickly the defendant can expect an arraignment. Generally, the rule-of-thumb is to expect the arraignment to occur within two days after being arrested. If the defendant is arrested and released on bail or on his own recognizance, the arraignment may take longer than if he is arrested and remains in jail.
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