An arraignment hearing is the first court appearance a defendant will make after facing charges for a crime. During an arraignment, the defendant will hear the formal charges the court is pressing against him or her. The defendant will also have the opportunity to enter a plea: guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Arraignments are not always necessary for minor crimes, but will always occur in felony cases in California.
A defendant has the right to hire a defense attorney for a felony arraignment hearing. Hiring a lawyer this early on is typically in a defendant’ best interest. A lawyer can empower the defendant by explaining his or her rights and preventing the defendant from saying or doing something incriminating. Even without an attorney, however, a judge will advise the defendant on his or her rights under the United State Constitution and California Constitution.
Keep in mind that if your crime is only an infraction, you will not have the right to a trial by jury or a court-appointed public defender. The law only reserves these rights for more serious criminal cases. If you face an arraignment for a felony, you will have to appear in person before a judge unless an exception is present. For a misdemeanor charge, an attorney can typically appear on the defendant’s behalf.
Then, the judge will proceed to go over the specific details of the criminal case. The courts must let the defendant know the specific charges against him or her. Local and federal laws address the ways in which a court must make the defendant aware of the formal charges. This is one of the legal rights a defendant has in the U.S. justice system. The courts must make the defendant totally aware of all criminal charges pressed against him or her.
Next comes one of the most important parts of an arraignment hearing – the plea. A defendant should not enter a plea without first consulting with an attorney. If the defendant cannot afford to hire a private practice lawyer, the courts will appoint a public defender (during felony cases). Consulting with an attorney can help the defendant fully understand his or her options and the consequences of entering a certain type of plea.
The defendant will have three plea choices. Pleading guilty will skip the process of a criminal trial to determine the defendant’s guilt. Pleading no contest means the defendant does not confess to the crime, but will accept punishment. Pleading not guilty will move the case to a criminal trial.
Finally, the courts will make a decision whether or not to allow the release of the defendant on bail. This means that, for a price, the defendant can await the next hearing at home instead of from inside a cell. The courts will consider the request for bail according to the type and severity of the crime, as well as the judge’s opinion of the defendant.