The arraignment hearing is a critical process within the criminal justice system.
It is your first formal appearance before a judge and marks the beginning of the legal proceedings against you. During the arraignment hearing, the charges against you are read out loud, and you are asked to enter a plea. This process is essential for ensuring you understand the charges against you and are given the opportunity to defend yourself.
Whether you or someone you know are facing criminal charges, understanding the arraignment process is crucial to navigating the criminal justice system.
Here we will provide an overview of the arraignment hearing process, including what to expect, how to prepare, and what rights you have as a defendant.
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 plead.
Common Charges That Require an Arraignment
Below are a few reasons someone may go into a criminal arraignment, including DWIs, property damage, and domestic violence.
Driving while intoxicated is called 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 consider 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 kills or injures someone is also classified as a felony.
Besides jail time, DWI or DUI charges are often subject to high fines. Those fines become remarkably higher for a DWI charge with a child passenger.
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 the 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 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 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 in the severity of the injury.
A simple domestic violence charge can incur up to a six-month jail sentence, 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.
When Does the Arraignment Happen?
Courts must hold arraignment relatively soon after charges are filed, 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.
Keep in mind that in Missouri, you and your defense attorney may choose to waive arraignment, and you will not be required to make a court appearance.
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, the bail hearing will be conducted either during or after arraignment. Details regarding bail are included further below.
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 plead.
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
- The defendant’s 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 up 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, the defendant’s 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 felony cases will enter a preliminary hearing. Their attorney will then review the evidence against them for a pending 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 argue for their respective positions.
A defendant always has the right to go to trial. A trial can be a jury trial, where a grand 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 not obligated 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.
Expunging (or concealing) a criminal record is possible for some offenders. In Connecticut, for instance, misdemeanors and felonies are eligible for expungement after three and five 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 six 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 can 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.
When to Hire an Attorney
Attorneys can be obtained either privately or, for a criminal defendant who can’t afford a lawyer, courts will appoint a public defender.
Many jurisdictions have very long waitlists for public defenders. 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).
Why Hire 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.
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 guide you on state and local city or county laws.
While attorneys often have a 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.
Consider the following conditions when deciding whether or not hiring an attorney may be beneficial:
- 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
- If a warrant for your arrest has been issued
Call Rose Legal Services Today
If you’re facing criminal charges, you need a team of experienced and dedicated legal professionals on your side. At Rose Legal Services, we fight tirelessly for our client’s rights and freedoms.
Our skilled attorneys have a proven track record of successfully defending clients against various criminal charges. We understand that the criminal justice system can be intimidating and overwhelming, but you don’t have to face it alone. Let us help you navigate the legal process and achieve the best possible outcome for your case.
Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step toward protecting your future.