Arraignments: What you should know and what to do

An arraignment is the first court appearance for a person facing criminal charges. The purpose of an arraignment is 1) inform the person of the charge or charges pending against him or her 2) set bond 3) set the next court date. Generally, arraignments are fairly quick and painless. That is not to say that they can’t be somewhat stressful; particularly for those who have never been in trouble before.

After the judge or magistrate reads the charges, he will ask if you wish to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. (or stand mute which operates like a not guilty). Many judges will automatically enter a not guilty plea for a felony. He or she may also appoint an attorney if you say you can not afford one or if you are not yet sure if you will retain one. You can always replace your court appointed attorney with an attorney of your choice, though it is generally to your advantage to do so sooner than later.

For a misdemeanor, it is wise to enter a not guilty plea as well. Even if you are in fact guilty, you may wish to at least move the case forward to a pre-trial conference and see if the prosecutor may offer you a “plea deal” which may include reduced charges and/or no jail. You have nothing to lose at this point.

Some courts allows you to waive your arraignment via sending in certain paperwork. You have to hire an attorney to do so. This is only allowed in certain misdemeanors, never in felonies.