Arraignment Hearing Process Basics



While an arraignment may come with nuances unique to each state or district, they all follow relatively similar procedures. Missouri law, for instance, refers to the act of impaired driving as “driving while intoxicated (DWI).” Colorado, on the other hand, refers to the same act as “driving under the influence (DUI).” Both instances require defendants to find a DWI attorney familiar with the laws of their respective states.

What Is an Arraignment?

The first step of a criminal proceeding, an arraignment can be thought of as the initial, formal hearing. At this time, the defendant is read their rights and charges by a judge. This gives the defendant the information necessary to decide how they wish to plea.


What Happens Before an Arraignment?

Arraignment follows after an arrest or complaint is made against an individual. An arrest or complaint can stem from multiple offenses such as drug possession, sexual assault, stalking, or DWI. Following the arrest is the booking, the process of collecting detailed records of the suspect. The booking procedure is relatively standard, and involves gathering basic information such as name, address, photos, and fingerprints.

Depending on the state the defendant is being charged in, the bail hearing will be conducted either during or after arraignment. Details regarding bail are included further below.


When Does Arraignment Occur?

Courts must hold arraignment relatively soon after charges are filed and usually at the first court date. For defendants who are in custody, states specify how quickly a defendant must be arraigned, usually within two business days.


When To Get an Attorney

Attorneys can be obtained either privately or, for defendants who are indigent, courts will appoint a public defender. Many jurisdictions have very long waitlists for public defenders, and it is not uncommon for it to take months before a public defender accepts the appointment and begins work on the case. Private attorneys, on the other hand, may be obtained immediately, which can be advantageous to the defendant’s case.


The extra time provided to private attorneys allows them the opportunity to better negotiate reduced charges, potentially expose a weak case, and catch inconsistencies or vulnerabilities in the process. This can all help inform the plea entered at the arraignment, as well as other processes that may happen at the same time or immediately following arraignment (for example, dealing with the Department of Transportation following a DWI arrest).

Reasons To Get an Attorney

There are various reasons you may want to hire an attorney. While all charges may not be dropped by the presence of an attorney, they certainly have the potential to be reduced. Consider the following conditions when deciding whether or not hiring an attorney may be beneficial:


When hiring an attorney, it is important to find one familiar with the laws of your state or district. Hiring an attorney in St. Louis, Missouri, for instance, will provide you with guidance on state as well as local city or county laws. While attorneys often have broad knowledge of the law, it is likely that they work in one primary locale, and are experienced in helping clients navigate the unique codes and systems in their region.

  • If law enforcement has recently questioned you or taken you into custody (even if you were released a few hours later);
  • If you learn that criminal charges have been filed against you;
  • If you could go to jail, or you are already in jail;
  • If a prosecutor is assigned to your case;
  • If a judge tells you that you need an attorney; and
  • If a warrant for your arrest has been issued.

What Happens at an Arraignment?

An arraignment will begin with the defendant being read their rights and charges, including the date and location of the offense. Many jurisdictions also inform the defendant of the witnesses that the prosecution plans to call against them, as well as a summary of the alleged facts. From there the defendant will decide how they wish to plea. Since an arraignment is the first court date, a “not guilty” plea is almost always entered, and unless the charge is trivial, courts generally will not accept a guilty plea at arraignment.


Setting Conditions of Release

Courts consider a number of factors when setting the conditions of release. Some of the more common factors considered include:

  • If the defendant is a threat to their community;
  • If the defendant has a past criminal record;
  • If the defendant has ties to the community, such as a job;
  • If the defendant is employed in the community;
  • If the defendant has any history of failing to show for court.

The following requirements and restrictions are commonly applied to conditions of release:

  • Bail bond;
  • Release on the defendant’s own recognizance;
  • Supervised release;
  • No contact with the victim;
  • No use of drugs or alcohol;
  • No possession of firearms or other deadly weapons;
  • No travel outside of the country.

Any violation made towards the conditions of release can lead to an additional arrest. Even minor violations are unlikely to garner any sympathy from the court. It is more likely that a violation ends in jail time.

The bail bond is made to provide an incentive to return to court. The higher the bail, the more likely someone is to return to court. This is because bail is returned after the criminal proceeding is finished and forfeited if it is not.


What Happens After an Arraignment?

The events that transpire after an arraignment largely depend on the state or district in which the defendant was charged, their plea, and the severity of their charges.

A defendant who pleads not guilty to a misdemeanor will enter a pre-trial conference; one who pleads not guilty to a felony will enter a preliminary hearing. Their attorney will then review the evidence against them for a later trial.

Often the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney will engage in plea negotiations, which may lead to a plea agreement. Plea agreements often require the defendant to plead guilty to certain offenses in exchange for a specific sentence. Sometimes the charges may be reduced or certain charges dropped. And if the prosecutor agrees to probation as part of a plea agreement, there will be various conditions of probation to be negotiated, such as community service, restitution, drug or alcohol treatment, and various rehabilitative programs and classes.

Other times, the defendant may wish to plead guilty, but the defendant’s attorney and the prosecutor will not be able to reach an agreement on the sentence. Such a scenario may lead to a “blind” or “open” plea in which the defendant pleads guilty without a plea agreement. It will be up to the judge to decide the sentence, and the judge may order the probation office or other court personnel to prepare a sentencing report prior to sentencing. At a sentencing hearing, the prosecutor and the defense attorney can introduce evidence and make arguments for their respective positions.

Finally, a defendant always has the right to go to trial. A trial can be a jury trial, where a jury of 12 decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty, or it can be a bench trial, where a judge decides. The prosecutor has the burden of proof at trial, and to be found guilty, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant committed the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard of proof in the law. A defendant, through his or her lawyer, has a right to call witnesses at trial and to testify on his or her own behalf, but a defendant is under no obligation to do so. If a defendant loses at trial, he or she may appeal the decision to a higher court.

No matter the result of an arrest, it can have a negative impact on the defendant’s life. Renting an apartment or finding employment becomes very difficult with a criminal record, regardless of the severity of the crime.

Most states, however, have methods to alleviate the difficulties of a criminal record for certain crimes. Having a defense attorney in this situation is crucial as they are the ones trained to navigate the legal system. Defense attorneys not only negotiate charges and plea deals, but also handle the bureaucratic and procedural matters that follow an arrest, such as expungement and driver’s license reinstatement.


Expungement

Expunging (or concealing) a criminal record is a possibility for some offenders. In Connecticut, for instance, misdemeanors and felonies are eligible for expungement after 3 and 5 years, respectively. In Maine expungement is much more limited. Only offenders under the age of 21 and convicted of a Class E offense (up to 6 months of incarceration) are eligible. Each state has its own terms of expungement that consider factors such as the severity of the crime and the time elapsed since.

Not every job or person is kept from seeing a criminal record even after it has been expunged. Law enforcement agencies and other government departments often have the ability to read concealed files, especially regarding your potential employment.

Driver’s License Reinstatement

Having a suspended driver’s license takes a toll on a person’s life and finances. An inability to drive could mean the difference between holding a job and paying the bills or barely making ends meet.

For someone convicted of a DWI or DUI charge, there is almost no way to avoid license suspension. However, certain states will install an ignition interlock device that prevents a car from starting without its driver first passing a BAC test. This kind of implementation is used for offenders with a DWI or DUI charge. Other states allow offenders to drive solely to and from work or school.

Full driver’s license reinstatement is largely dependent on the state in which the offender resides. A good DWI attorney can help clients navigate the Department of Transportation and the Department of Motor Vehicles rules and procedures unique to their state.


Common Charges That Require an Arraignment

Below are a few reasons someone may go into a criminal arraignment, including DWI’s, property damage, and domestic violence. Additionally included are the potential fines and sentences attached to each charge.


DWI

Driving while intoxicated is referred to as DWI or DUI depending on the state. While different states have different repercussions for driving under the influence, all of them classify the act as a misdemeanor that is punishable by jail time. Some states take into consideration the level of blood-alcohol-concentration (BAC) when determining the severity of punishment. Many states impose different repercussions for first versus repeated offenses. Repeated impaired driving offenses eventually are classified as a felony. An intoxicated driving offense that killed or injured someone is also classified as a felony.

Besides jail time, DWI or DUI charges are often subject to high fines. Getting a DWI charge in Texas, for instance, can incur a fine of up to $2,000, on top of potential jail time. Those fines become remarkably higher for a DWI charge with a child passenger.

Property Damage

Property damage, or vandalism, can be done to homes, cars, and personal belongings, among other forms of property. The types of damage that can be done to property are extensive, including everything from breaking a window to committing arson. Each instance of property damage must additionally be charged with consideration over whether it was performed in the commission of another crime, such as a burglary.

The consequences of property damage charges vary by state, as do other charges. In New York, property damage is divided into two categories: criminal mischief and criminal tampering. These are then separated into degrees ranging in terms of severity. For example, an individual who commits criminal mischief in the first degree by damaging someone’s property by means of explosives, has committed a felony and is subject to a prison sentence of up to 25 years.

In Georgia, on the other hand, property damage in the first degree is any act of damage by which another human’s life becomes endangered. Another first-degree charge is tampering with public communication or transportation systems. Both of these charges are classified as felonies and are punishable by up to ten years in prison.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is an act committed by a person against somebody who they are in or have been in a relationship with. This act can be between significant others, relatives, or sexual partners, among other relationships. Some states find that domestic violence does not have to occur between individuals living with each other.

The state of Mississippi divides domestic violence into two categories: simple and aggravated. The difference lies mainly between the severity of the injury. A simple domestic violence charge can incur up to a six-month jail sentence and a $500 fine, or both. An aggravated domestic violence charge has a minimum of a two-year prison sentence. Both charges amass prison sentences of up to 20 years if they are repeated offenses.

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