An arraignment is the first formal hearing following an arrest. The purpose of an arraignment is to provide the defendant (the person being charged) with the specific crime they are being charged with, to advise the defendant of his or her constitutional rights, to allow the defendant to enter a plea, to set bail, and to set other preliminary hearing dates.
When Does an Arraignment Occur?
After someone is arrested, they should be arraigned within 48 hours, not including weekends or holidays. Realistically, the process may take longer because many defendants are released from jail on bail.
For example, if Joe is arrested on Monday for a DUI and he does not make bail, he should be arraigned on Wednesday. But, if he posts bail and leaves custody (jail) on Monday evening, his arraignment may be scheduled a few weeks later.
If the defendant is arrested on a felony or serious charge that requires him to remain in custody, or if he cannot afford bail, an arraignment should take place within 48 hours.
Do I Have to Appear at the Arraignment?
In most misdemeanor cases, once someone has retained a lawyer, they can appear on your behalf at the arraignment hearing, saving the client the time and stress of having to come to court.
In some cases, such as an aggravated DUI, the person may be required to appear even if they have previously obtained counsel. In addition, most felony defendants must appear at the arraignment hearing and most subsequent hearings as determined by the judge.
If the individual of their lawyer does not appear at the arraignment, the judge will issue a bench warrant – which means that if they are located by the police, they will arrest the individual and take them directly to jail.
In many cases, the police will go directly to their home to arrest them, so it is crucial to act immediately to avoid an unexpected arrest. The issuance of a bench warrant may also result in additional charges being filed against the defendant.
Entering a Plea
At the arraignment, the judge will ask the defendant (or counsel) how they wish to plea. A plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest can be entered at this time. In most cases, defendants plead not guilty at this stage.
The prosecutor of the case will be present during this hearing, and may use the opportunity to present a “plea bargain” – a deal that if you plead guilty to the crime, your sentence will be reduced.
A guilty plea is just as it sounds – an admission of guilt of the crime. If a guilty plea is entered at the arraignment, the only future hearings will be related to sentencing.
A plea of no contest (also called “nolo contendere”) is a plea that means the prosecution's evidence is very strong against the defendant, so the defendant will accept the charges without pleading guilty.
A plea of not guilty means the defendant intends to fight the charges against them. This is the most common plea during an arraignment.
What Are My Rights?
During the arraignment, the judge will advise the defendant of their Constitutional rights. These rights include:
- The right to be represented by an attorney
- The right against self-incrimination
- The right to a speedy trial
- The right to a trial by jury, and
- The right to produce and confront witnesses.
If the defendant does not appear at the arraignment, an attorney can review these rights and advise them of how they apply to the case.
In many cases, bail will be set upon release from jail. If an individual remains in custody, however, the judge will set their bail amount at the arraignment. If a person has already been released from jail on bail, the judge may modify or reduce the bail amount at the hearing.
Alternatively, the judge can release the defendant on their own recognizance (this option does not require bail to be set). In any of these scenarios, the judge is releasing the individual from custody with the expectation that they will not be arrested while they are released and that they will appear at their next scheduled hearings.
For some arrests, arraignments can be a two-step process. For smaller cities (where the jail is not near to the county courthouse) or those with judges “on call,” sometimes the judge will appear at the jailhouse to set bail, inform the individual of their charges, and advise them of their right to counsel.
This means that they will appear before a judge after being arrested, before being released from jail, and before going to court. If the judge appears at the courthouse to advise an individual of their rights, it does not mean that there will not be an arraignment set for a future date.
Contact Beahm Law Today
If you have been arrested and you have a pending arraignment hearing, contact an experienced defense attorney at Beahm Law today.
We can evaluate your case prior to the hearing and hopefully we may appear on your behalf. Call us today for a consultation at 415-493-8677 or contact us online.