Arraignment - The Basics
An arraignment is nothing to be afraid of. You should view your arraignment as an opportunity that you can take advantage of. But we’ll discuss that later on.
Your arraignment is the day that the government declares the crime or crimes they accuse you of committing. It is a run-of-the-mill court proceeding, and it is uneventful. Once the judge reads your criminal charges out loud, the judge will ask you if plead guilty or not guilty. In every arraignment, your defense attorney will enter a “not guilty” plea on your behalf.
Arraignment - When does it happen?
Arraignment - Is It Necessary?
An arraignment is very necessary because it serves a few important purposes.
First, you will have an opportunity to tell the judge whether you can afford a private attorney. Since you have a Constitutional right to an attorney, the judge will inform you of your right to apply for the services of a public defender. Next, the judge will teach you about your right to a trial. Remember, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a reasonable doubt. Just because you are being accused of committing a crime doesn’t mean that you committed a crime. Everyone in the United States has a Constitutional Right to their day in court. Last, if you do not qualify for a public defender and wish to hire a private attorney, the judge will give you a reasonable time to find an attorney.
You should view your arraignment as something good. It is a Constitutional safeguard designed to protect you. No one is determining your guilt or innocence during your arraignment. It’s intended to teach you about the charges you are facing and advise you of your Constitutional rights.
Breaking Down The Arraignment Into Small Parts
During your arraignment, you will be in a courtroom with a lot of other defendants. Everyone is in the same situation as you. It’s the first day of a long process and it’s ok to be nervous. You will most likely have an attorney on the day of your arraignment. If you don’t, that’s ok. As explained before, the judge will give you time to find & hire a criminal defense attorney.
Once your name is called, you will proceed with your attorney to the front of the courtroom. You will stand next to your attorney on one side of the and the prosecutor will be on the other side. The judge will ask for your attorney’s appearance to be placed on the record & the prosecutor must do the same.
Next, the judge will read the criminal charges against you out loud. Sometimes the judge will ask your attorney if he/she wishes to “waive the reading” of the charges. Since your attorney has discussed the charges you are facing prior to your arraignment, he/she will most likely agree to “waive the reading” of the charges.
Next, the judge will ask, “how do you plead to these charges?”.
You will have the following choices:
You will have to admit what you did under oath. This option will leave you with a criminal conviction. It will stay on your record for years before it can be expunged. And it will show up a background check.
Plead Not Guilty
This means that judge will set a scheduling order for your next court appearance. During this time, the prosecutor must provide your defense attorney with all of the evidence against you. Your defense attorney will review the evidence with you and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
Waiving The Arraignment
If you hired a defense attorney soon after your arrest, then he/she will have researched the criminal charges against you. Your defense attorney does not have to wait for the day of your arraignment to discuss your case with the prosecutor. For this reason, it is very important to hire a criminal lawyer soon after your arrest.
Your attorney can quickly start the plea bargaining process days & weeks ahead of your arraignment. This is advantageous for you because many criminal cases can get dismissed or settled before your first court appearance. By hiring a criminal lawyer immediately after your arrest, he/she has the advantage of visiting the “scene of the crime” to secure favorable evidence for you.
Defendants often make the mistake of waiting too long before hiring a lawyer. The problem is that the longer you wait, the greater the likelihood of losing evidence. For example, if you were charged with aggravated assault during a bar fight, it is important for your lawyer to get the bar surveillance video before it is destroyed. One of our clients was in this situation and hired us the day after the police charged him with aggravated assault during a bar brawl. We quickly visited the bar, obtained the video, and learned from the video that our client was acting in self-defense. The prosecutor saw this video and agreed to dismiss his criminal charges. Had we visited the bar weeks or months after our client’s arrest, chances are great that the bar would’ve destroyed their security footage.
If you hire an attorney soon after your arrest, your attorney can ask the judge to waive your first appearance. However, for more serious crimes like murder & aggravated sexual assault, the judge will require your appearance.
Arraignment & Bail
If you are charged with a violent felony, you will be held in jail until your arraignment. Since you are facing serious criminal charges, you may be considered a “danger to society” and a “flight risk”. New Jersey bail laws have changed.
Now, if you are jailed & facing serious criminal charges, you will undergo a Public Safety Assessment (PSA). This test takes into consideration two risk scales: 1) Failure to Appear for Future Court Dates & 2) Risk for New Criminal Activity
Some of the things that the PSA considers are:
- Criminal history – Have you ever been convicted of a crime or do you have a clean record?
- Current criminal charges – How serious are the charges you’re facing? Murder or Shoplifting?
- The danger you pose to the community – if you are released, will you injure another person
Depending on your PSA score, the criminal charges you are facing, and your criminal history, the judge may deny your release from jail. You can appeal the judge’s decision but if you’re appeal is denied, then you will remain in jail until your criminal case is resolved through a plea deal or at trial.
Taking Advantage of an arraignment
Although you may wish to waive your arraignment, there are excellent reasons to appear for it. As the saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” When you appear for your arraignment, you are showing the judge you intend to defend the charges against you. You are innocent & the truth will prevail. It’s all about attitude!
You should always appear with a respectful & serious demeanor. Your arraignment is not the time to state your case or argue the law. Think of it as taking a stand. You stand there quietly alongside your attorney & you show the judge through your body language that you are not afraid. You simply show that you trust our justice system & are counting on it to vindicate you.
Arraignment & the Media
If you’re involved in a highly publicized case, you can expect members of the media to show up at your arraignment. If the media approaches you, you should always let your attorney do the talking. Many criminal defense lawyers will answer with a “no comment”. But you should avoid the temptation to state your case to the media. Your emotions are running high and you have less control over what you say.
However, just like it’s important to make your stand in the courtroom, it’s also important to show a strong resolve to fight for your innocence outside of the courtroom. You should walk with your head held high knowing that you will get your day in court. Avoid covering your head & face under your coat. This body language gives off the impression that you have something to hide. Instead, use body language that we would expect of an innocent person.
Arraignment & the Big Picture
In the big picture of things, your arraignment is an uneventful and painless court proceeding. There’s nothing to really be afraid of. Think of it in terms of a football analogy. Your arrest was the pregame warmup and the arraignment is the kickoff that starts the game.
Remember to contact a criminal lawyer immediately after your arrest & go to your first court appearance with your held high. You will get your day in court & truth always prevails. Well, almost always…
You or a loved one have been arrested. Understandably, you are terrified & have a lot of questions. You’ve heard about plea bargains & probation, but the process is overwhelming. You want a local attorney near you to represent you.
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Regardless of the criminal charges you are facing, we are here to defend & protect you. Whether you are facing a restraining order, drug charge, theft charge, or aggravated assault charge, we are here to help you. Even a DWI case can really complicate your life.
If we can’t get your charges dismissed, we can either get them downgraded or place you in a diversionary program. The point is, our criminal defense lawyers will fight tirelessly to get you the best result possible. Take advantage of our free consultation to see how we can help.
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