What Happens at an Arraignment?
What happens after you’ve been arrested for a crime in California? According to the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, you must be “informed of the nature and cause” of your arrest. This Sixth Amendment right is provided through what is known as an arraignment. An arraignment is the official first legal proceeding in your case and has many functions. After an arraignment you should, at the very least understand the charges that have been filed against you.
What is an Arraignment?
An arraignment is the first court hearing of your California criminal case. The hearing is generally scheduled after the prosecutor officially files criminal charges against you. An arraignment is a hearing that is designed to set the stage for the rest of the criminal proceedings. Arraignment hearings can establish whether you will be detained or released on bail, serve as a platform for advising you of your Constitutional rights, and give you the first opportunity to enter a plea.
Explanation of Charges and Constitutional Rights
The Sixth Amendment makes it clear that you must be told the “nature and cause” of the charges against you. The court will read and explain the charges that have been formally filed against you. The court will also advise you of your Constitutional rights and ask if you understand them. They will probably emphasize that you have the right to have an attorney represent you and that you have the right to fight the charges against you.
After the explanation of charges and rights, the court will ask you to enter a preliminary plea. A plea is your formal answer to the charges and accusations against you. In California, there are generally three pleas that may be entered.
- Guilty. A plea of guilty means that you accept the accusations of criminal wrongdoing and will accept the punishments that are associated with the crime.
- No Contest. A plea of nolo contendere (“no contest”) is essentially a plea of guilty, with one major difference. A guilty plea may be used as evidence against you in a related civil action. A plea of no contest cannot be used as evidence against you in a related civil action.
- Not Guilty. A plea of not guilty means that you do not acknowledge criminal wrongdoing and will assert a defense.
Your plea will determine the next step in the criminal proceedings. A sentencing hearing will follow a plea of guilty or a plea of no contest. A pretrial or preliminary hearing will follow a plea of not guilty.
In some minor drug cases there may be a fourth plea option. In California, the first time you are arrested for a non-violent drug possession crime you may be able to request a Deferred Entry of Judgment. If granted, you will enter an educational and rehabilitative drug treatment program. When the program has been completed and you have followed the court’s orders you are entitled to have the minor drug charges against you dropped. An experienced California criminal defense attorney will be able to you if you may qualify for Deferred Entry of Judgment.
An arraignment also allows the court to set, modify, reinstate, or remove bail. A court may also decide to release you without bail on your own recognizance. This means that you are being released from custody without supplying any type of collateral for your return. This step may depend on whether or not you have already been released from police custody. If the court determines that bail is necessary your criminal defense attorney may request a separate bail hearing.
When Does an Arraignment Happen?
The timing of your arraignment will depend on whether or not you are actively in police custody. This may also relate to the severity of the charge against you. If you have been arrested for a felony police may decide to keep you in custody. If you are retained in police custody you must legally be arraigned within 48 hours of your arrest. Weekends and holidays are not included in this 48-hour calculation. If you are arrested late in the week or in close proximity to a holiday you may be held in police custody for longer than 48 hours without an arraignment. However, police must not unnecessarily delay your arraignment.
If you are arrested for a misdemeanor and police decide to release you from custody you are not required to have an arraignment within 48 hours of your arrest. Rather, your arraignment will not happen for at least 10 days after your arrest.
Do I Have to Show Up at My Arraignment?
Again, it depends on the severity of the charge(s) against you. If you have been arrested for a felony you are required to appear at your arraignment. If you cannot appear you may present the court with a written waiver. The court can accept or reject your waiver. Even if the court does accept your waiver it retains the right to demand that you are present for future court appearances. If you have been arrested for a misdemeanor you can choose to have your attorney appear on your behalf. In California, some misdemeanor criminal charges will require that you are present for your arraignment.
It is advised that you do attend your arraignment because it is an important step in the criminal proceedings against you. An arraignment exists because the Sixth Amendment guarantees you the right to be advised of the charges against you. We also advise hiring an experienced California criminal defense attorney to appear with you at your arraignment. Your chances of a successful outcome and securing manageable bail increase when you have an attorney on your side.