An arraignment is a type of court proceeding wherein the defendant is advised of the charges levelled against them and asked how they plead to the charges. The image of a defendant pleading guilty or not guilty in front of a judge is very common in films and television but not many people know what actually happens during an arraignment.
If you are being charged with a crime then your arraignment will be scheduled within a short amount of time from your initial arrest. The Sixth Amendment to the constitution gives citizens the right to a speedy trial and so you can expect a fast turn around from arrest to arraignment. An unreasonable delay may actually be grounds to having a case dismissed, though it depends on the circumstances of the delay and the case itself.
What Happens Before a Plea is Entered?
For your arraignment you will be brought into a courtroom to appear before a judge. Often at this point the judge will read you what you are charged with from a document called an indictment. However, you are able to waive the reading of the indictment if you and your attorney are already aware of what you’re being charged with. In this case the judge will not read the indictment to you but you will still receive a copy of the indictment.
You and your attorney will be required to sign a form in order to acknowledge that you received your copy of the indictment and are aware of the crimes you are accused of.
Also common at an arraignment is to advise the defendant of their constitutional rights. These are the right to a trail, to counsel and the right against self-incrimination.
Having been made away of your rights and the charges levelled against you, the arraignment continues to move forward to the entering of the plea.
What Pleas are Entered at an Arraignment?
Once you are aware of the charges you’re facing, you have three pleas which you can enter. Everybody knows guilty and not guilty but not as many people are aware that there is also a plea called no contest. What happens next depends on which plea you enter:
- Guilty Plea: To plead guilty is to admit to committing the crime in question. If the charge in question is for a minor crime then the judge may proceed with sentencing right there during the arraignment. At this point the defense attorney may negotiate with the prosecutor to come to an agreement on the sentence. However, in a more serious case with a more serious crime it is more likely that the judge will set a time for a sentencing hearing and even request a presentence report so that they can ensure a fitting sentence is given.
- Not Guilty Plea: Pleading not guilty is recommended in most cases. When you plead not guilty you put into process the proceedings of a criminal trial that are familiar from film and television. The prosecutor is required to gather evidence against the defendant. Meanwhile, the defense is given the chance to look over the evidence, further investigate the case and build an argument for the defendant. Pleading not guilty is a defendant’s way to say that they will fight against the charge to prove their innocence.
- No Contest Plea: A no contest plea is like the middle ground between a guilty plea and a not guilty plea. As with a guilty plea, a no contest plea will progress the case onto charges. This means that if it’s a minor crime then sentencing could happen right there and if it’s more serious a sentencing hearing will be set. But pleading no contest doesn’t mean that you admit your guilt. Rather, pleading no contest is a way of saying that you can’t prove your innocence but don’t admit to the crime. You will be sentenced like you were guilty but maintain that you are innocent.
What are the Conditions of Pretrial Release?
Depending on the severity of the charges levelled against the defendant and the defendant’s history, such as their criminal record, connection to the community, employment history and court history, the judge may determine that there be conditions to their release during the arraignment. Conditions are broken down as follows:
- Release on Own Recognizance: To be released on your own recognizance means that you are released on your word that you will short up for your trial and any of the other court proceedings that may occur relating to your case. A release on own recognizance only really occurs when the charges are minor or the defendant has a very minimal record of past offenses. Having a permanent resident and employment within the community increases the odds of being released this way.
- Bond or Bail: Bond (or bail) is quite common and is a way of increasing the odds that the defendant will return for their court proceedings. In this case the judge will choose a dollar amount, say $10,000. The defendant must come up with the money and give it to the court. The court will hold the money until after the trail and return it, minus the costs or fees that are owed the court. A surety bond may be allowed, which allows for a smaller portion of the bond to be paid while holding a bondsman responsible for for the remaining balance if the defendant does not appear. Being released on bail may have additional restrictions put on the defendant such as banning them from leaving the state or contacting the victim of their crime.
- Supervised Release: A supervised release sees the defendant allowed to leave so long as they keep up meetings with their supervisor much the same way that probation works. This is an alternative to bond and so the same restrictions may be applied to a supervised release.
- Other: As mentioned above, the judge can set conditions on the defendants release. They could also include things like not associating with known criminals, not using drugs or alcohol, not owning any weapons or even not touching a computer (in the case of some cyber crimes). These conditions are going to be determined by the judge and largely be decided on because of the exact details of the case itself.
What Should I Do Before My Arraignment?
If you are preparing for your arraignment then the most important thing to do is get a great attorney. They’ll help you understand the process and work with you to get the best outcome. Give us a call at (803) 253-1595 to see how The Leddy Law Film, LLC, can help you with your arraignment.