Being released on bail or your own recognizance is a relief, but does not necessarily end your legal problems. You probably are anxious to know when you will get in front of a judge to find out more about the specific charges against you.
The first appearance before a judge is commonly known as an arraignment. Providing judicial oversight, this appearance is in place to prohibit law enforcement from indefinitely confining suspects of a crime.
The time in which an arraignment must take place varies from one jurisdiction to the next. Some states set a specific timeframe; others have an unclear ban to simply prevent unnecessary delay after someone’s arrest.
What to Expect During the Arraignment
For state and federal court, an arraignment is usually the time when you are advised of the charges against you, as well as your constitutional rights. The court may also:
• Ask if you plan to either use a public defender or hire an attorney
• Accept your plea
• Determine whether bail is appropriate and if so, what amount
• Establish conditions for your release pending resolution of your case. These may include travel restrictions or banning you from having contact from the victim of your accused crime.
• Set future dates for more proceedings such as reporting back after plea negotiations or to attend a preliminary hearing.
Entering a Plea at the Arraignment
During the early stages of legal proceedings, the court will ask you how you wish to plead for the crime you are charged with committing. This may occur at your first court appearance or a later arraignment that you attend.
Most defendants enter a “not guilty” plea regardless of the charges in the case. Basically, this plea makes more sense, although you could change the not guilty plea at a later date during the proceedings. The same is not true if you enter a no-contest or guilty plea. Some defendants who enter a not guilty plea may change to one of the other pleas after their attorney reaches a deal with the prosecution, if necessary.
Reasons for initially pleading not guilty can vary, but is usually for one of the following:
• Not have a lawyer at the initial arraignment to receive legal advice on the best way to proceed.
• No discovery information related to the prosecution’s evidence by the time entering a plea is necessary. The police report is typically part of the discovery and is considered the most important part. Without this report, you may have very little understanding of how strong the prosecution’s case is against you. However, the police report alone is not enough. There might be recordings or photographs considered evidence that may strengthen or weaken the prosecution’s case.
• Uncertain ramifications from the plea, especially if you attend an arraignment without legal representation, is another reason to enter a not guilty plea. A conviction could mean more than you think, so surrendering your freedom without full knowledge of the consequences is not wise.
Representing Yourself during the Arraignment
There are many defendants who are capable of representing themselves during an arraignment. They can enter their “not guilty” plea and ask the judge to reduce their bail. However, standing there alone is not the best thing to do if you are facing criminal charges.
In some situations, a technical defect within the prosecution’s case might exist. You could have a right to raise the defect as an issue in the case, but only before you enter the plea. Additionally, the prosecutor’s office might only offer the best deals to defendants who decide to plead no contest or guilty during the arraignment.
If this deal is not available at a later date, and you are unware that this policy exists, you might have to face a harsher punishment as the case proceeds.
In addition, some judges are more likely to lower bail when you have legal representation. Self-representation might seem heroic, but you may want to postpone the arraignment by asking for a continuance until you have found legal counsel.
Consulting with a Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you were recently arrested and charged with a crime, consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney is something you should do as soon as possible. Spodek Law Group has many experienced attorneys who can aid you through the entire court process.
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