What Will Happen During Your Arraignment?
An arraignment is the first formal presentation of charges to the defendant, who must enter a plea. The defendant may plead guilty, not guilty, not guilty by reason of insanity, or no contest (nolo contendere). If the defendant refuses to enter a plea, the judge will enter a plea of not guilty on their behalf. Also, the judge can raise or lower the defendant’s bond, if any. In larger counties, an assistant prosecuting attorney is assigned to the case after arraignment (in some cases, the same prosecutor will be assigned from the onset) and the case is added to a judge’s docket. The court, with input from the prosecutor and defense attorney, sets a trial date and hearing dates on pretrial motions. The trial date may change because of requests for continuances in the case or because of other cases on the trial docket for that day.
An arraignment will typically occur post an arrest, but it must occur within a reasonable time. An unreasonable delay violates the defendant’s federal constitutional Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. If a criminal complaint, information, or indictment is issued and the prosecutor’s office or the court does not schedule the case for arraignment until months or years later, the defendant’s attorney can ask that the case be dismissed because of the delay. The judge must review the circumstances of the delay and determine whether said delay was unreasonable. If the delay was unreasonable, the case will be dismissed. Typically, individuals must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of their being held.
Delays can happen, and they are undoubtably frustrating for the accused. However, it is best to consult and retain an attorney as soon as you have been arrested, so you have an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner from the start. Here is the nature of events during an arraignment in deeper detail.
Advisement of Rights:
Judges will notify you of your constitutional rights at arraignment, such as the right to a speedy trial, such as the right to trial, the right to counsel, the right against self-incrimination, and their right to an attorney.
In some states, the defendant has a constitutional right to be represented by counsel at arraignment. If the defendant wants an attorney present, the court cannot arraign the defendant without giving the defendant an opportunity to obtain counsel or appointing a public defender. In Missouri, the defendant will file an application with the Public Defender’s Office, at which point the defendant will be paired up with an attorney to represent them.
Formally Charged and Entering a Plea:
Next, the judge will ask the accused if they want the charges formally read out loud in the courtroom, or if they waive reading of the charges. If a defendant is familiar with the charges, they may not wish to have everyone in the courtroom hear the specific allegations that have been made against him or her. This would be a good reason to waive formal reading of the charges.
After this, they will be required to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. As mentioned briefly earlier, a defendant may also enter an “Alford” plea, which basically acts as a guilty plea but acknowledges that the prosecutor has enough evidence to prove he committed the crime. Even though it acts as a guilty plea, the defendant does not admit guilt in a no contest plea. A judge would not typically be accepting this type of plea at arraignment as it typically requires more time.
Setting a Pre-trial Release:
An arraignment will typically include setting conditions of release, if necessary. In deciding whether to release the defendant pending completion of the case, courts primarily consider whether the defendant is a danger to the community, the defendant’s criminal record, the defendant’s ties to the community (how long he has lived in the community and whether he has family nearby), whether the defendant is employed in the community and for how long, and whether the defendant has any history of failing to appear for court. These considerations will all help the judge to set an appropriate bond amount, or let the defendant be released upon his own recognizance, or promise, to appear at his court date if the crime is minor.
There is a constitutional right to be released on bond unless you are a potential danger to the community or you are a flight risk, meaning you have a proven track record of failing to appear at your court dates. Thus, if the judge decides either of these factors exist, you may be denied bail. An arraignment can be confusing, so ensure you have a reputable, experienced attorney at your side to walk through this experience with you.