What Happens at an Arraignment and Why? Is It Like Trial?

An arraignment is a criminal proceeding where the defendant is called before a court, informed of the charges, and asked to enter a plea.  It is not a trial.  The police officer who arrested you or issued the citation will not be in court.  The alleged witnesses to the crime, if any, will not be in court.  The alleged victim or victims to the crime usually will not be there, either.  There will not be a jury ready to hear the case and the judge will not read the police report before the arraignment, if he or she ever does.
The Point of This Article:  An arraignment in a misdemeanor or felony case is not a final disposition of the case on its merits.  It is the start of the case, where defense counsel received the police report and is notified of the charges, however it can be an important opportunity to discuss the case with the prosecution.
If you have never been arrested, you might not understand the point of an arraignment hearing.  So why is this type of hearing important?  Here are some of the reasons why the State might hold an arraignment:

•    An arraignment was extremely important earlier in time because most defendants could not read.  During the arraignment hearing the prosecutor or judge would read the charges to the defendant so he understood what he was being charged with and could, in response, decide if he needed to hire an attorney, gather up witnesses and other evidence or simply plead guilty.

•    This process helps to ensure all defendants are aware of the charges and have an appointed attorney and are prepared before trial.  It also gives you the right to discovery of documents in the possession of the prosecution and allows an attorney to advise their client on what to expect going forward, such as the range of punishment, the defenses, immigration consequences, licensing effects, etc.
•    During an arraignment, the prosecution may decide if they are going to try your case or not.  If you plead guilty during the arraignment then you are sentenced and there is no need for a trial, but if you plead not guilty, further hearings to allow preparation for trial will be set.

•    After the date of the arraignment you have ten days to file motions unless the judge gives you more time, which also makes having an attorney important.  We usually extend this time period at the arraignment for you, as we want you to have time to review and comment upon the police report, the complaint and all other materials the DA or City Prosecutor may provide at the arraignment.

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While the whole process of an arraignment hearing may seem rather unimportant, it is an extremely critical process and is not to be taken lightly.  It is often where first impressions are made and the prosecution reveals its attitude about the seriousness of the charges, a likely plea bargain and the character of the defendant.   The judge may also make comments about the charges, impose additional conditions of continued release (such as attending AA meetings to remain out of custody) and indicate which judge may hear the case in trial later, if it is not the same judge.

We at Greg Hill & Associates approach each arraignment as an opportunity to discuss the case with the prosecution, establish rapport with the prosecutor handling the case and, if necessary, clarify important facts that the police report may omit or misunderstand.

For more information about being in court and commonly asked questions, click on the following articles:
  1. What Should I Wear and Bring to Court?
  2. What Is Bail and Can It Be Reduced?
  3. The Police Did Not Read Me My Miranda Rights - Will My Case Be Dismissed?

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