After being arrested on suspicion of having committed a crime, a person will have their first court date. This is called an arraignment, the court proceeding at which a criminal defendant is formally advised of the charges against him or her and enters a plea to those charges.
Some states require arraignments in all cases, felony and misdemeanor, in which the accused may face a jail or prison sentence. Other states require an arraignment only in felony cases. We didn’t take the time to list them all here, but when an individual is arrested and about to be charged, they’ll be instructed on what they need to do.
This blog post will cover the different aspects of a felony arraignment.
- When Does An Arraignment Occur?
- What Happens at an Arraignment?
- What Happens at the Conclusion of an Arraignment?
- Supporting the Accused After an Arraignment
When Does an Arraignment Occur?
Following arrest, arraignment must occur within a “reasonable amount of time” according to the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees the defendant the right to a speedy trial. This an appearance of the accused before a judge or magistrate in open court. Obviously what is “reasonable” becomes subjective and that’s up to the courts to decide.
In cases in which an arraignment is not set for months, the defendant’s attorney may petition the court to dismiss the charges. The judge will then review the cause of the delay to decide whether the delay was reasonable.
If it is determined to be unreasonable, the charges will be dismissed. Otherwise, an arraignment date will be set, and the legal process will proceed.
The defendant is allowed to waive arraignment, if they choose to do so. There are benefits to having an arraignment though.
In some states, an arraignment is the beginning of prosecution for determining the statute of limitations to run on the case. Meaning, the arraignment is the start of when the case and if someone tries to charge the defendant with the same crime later and the statute of limitations has passed, it will not be possible.
This is a positive because the arraignment will make it so that someone can’t be charged twice with the same crime once it’s started.
Another important reason to have the arraignment is that it often will mean that an attorney will be appointed at that time.
The sooner an attorney becomes involved in the case, the sooner a defensive strategy can be developed. The more time a defense attorney has to work on a case, the better the defense will be and the better chance of the defendant getting a favorable sentence or defense for the case.
What Happens at an Arraignment?
The following are the steps that will take place at an arraignment.
- First, the defendant will be advised of their constitutional rights. A defendant’s constitutional rights are similar to the Miranda rights that must be read to the accused at the time of their arrest. These rights include the right to counsel and the right to remain silent.
- Then the defendant will be told what the charge is, such as possession of a controlled substance. That is all that’s required in some states, while in others an actual indictment or complaint must be read to the defendant giving details of the alleged crime, such as when and where the crime took place and who the victim was.
- The next thing that happens is for the court to appoint an attorney, if the defendant does not already have one. Legal counsel is extremely important and if you’re in need of an attorney presently, we advise you to click here to visit our partner and choose the right attorney for your situation.
At this time, the defendant will be asked to enter a plea to the charges. The defendant can plead not guilty, guilty, or no contest. Quite often the defense attorney will instruct the accused to plead not guilty.
This requires the prosecutor to gather evidence against the defendant, giving the defense attorney the opportunity to review the evidence, investigate the case, and decide whether the evidence presented is enough to prove the defendant committed the crime.
A not guilty plea places the burden on the state to prove the accused committed the crime. A defendant can change a not guilty plea to guilty plea at a later date if needed.
If a guilty plea is entered, the judge may sentence the defendant at that time, if it is a minor crime, such as disorderly conduct. The prosecutor and defense attorney may negotiate a sentence at the time of the arraignment.
If it is a more serious crime, like any felony, the judge will set a date for the beginning of a trial.
If a defendant pleads no contest, they acknowledge that the prosecutor has enough evidence to prove they committed the crime, but they don’t actually admit that they did commit the crime. In such circumstances, the court proceedings will continue as if they had pleaded guilty.
Sometimes the accused may get a lesser sentence by pleading “no contest” as opposed to pleading guilty. This is where a lawyer comes in and their tactics come into play.
What Happens at the Conclusion of the Arraignment?
Once an arraignment is over, the judge will determine the requirements for the defendant to be released pending the ongoing investigation. They may be released on their own recognizance, some form of bail, or held until trial.
Basically, the judge will look at several factors in determining any form of pretrial release.
Among these factors are whether the defendant presents a danger to the community, their criminal record, how long they have been in the community and their ties to it, whether they are employed and their employment history, and whether they have a record of failing to appear in court.
Once this is all resolved, the judge will set the date for the defendant’s next appearance. That next date may be a preliminary hearing if at least one of the charges is a felony, or a pretrial hearing if the charges are a misdemeanor only.
Supporting the Accused after an Arraignment
The arraignment is actually a very important part of a trial. Not only is it the time when formal charges are brought and a plea entered, but it is a crucial time for the defendant and his family to support each other.
This represents the time when the family can come together to offer their support to their loved one as they goes through the legal process. It will be clear at this point the charges their family member is facing.
It will clarify the seriousness of the situation on the long legal road ahead. Encourage the accused to cooperate with their attorney in order to achieve the best possible outcome.
Have you dealt with a felony arraignment before? What advice do you have for our readers?