The Law Offices of Georges Meleka - Criminal Cases
What is an Arraignment?
An arraignment is the process by which the defendant is read specific charges against him. It is the first step in the criminal process after arrest. It is a brief hearing. All arraignments are conducted after the suspect is arrested and booked by law enforcement. An arraignment takes place only after the prosecuting attorney decides to file charges.
What will happen at the Arraignment and what must the Defendant do?
At the arraignment the defendant will appear before a judge. The defendant may appear alone, or he may bring legal counsel. An arraignment is the time where the judge will ask if the person appearing is the person identified in the charges. In addition, the judge will ask whether the defendant will plead not guilty. It is highly unusual that a defendant would enter a guilty plea at the arraignment. At an arraignment:
- The defendant usually will be provided with a written allegation from the prosecutor.
- The defendant will be asked to acknowledge his identity.
- The defendant may have private counsel present or the court may appoint one.
- The defendant may be told his possible punishment. The possible punishment is not a reflection on the case or the judges
view of the case or the defendant.
- If charged with a misdemeanor, the defendant is required to reply to the written charges with a plea of either guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere. (no contest) If charged with a felony, the defendant may or may not be required to reply with a plea at the initial arraignment. (The policy of presenting a plea at a felony arraignment is different state-by-state)
- In a misdemeanor case, the judge will set the defendant's tentative appearance schedule. In a felony case, the judge will set the defendant's tentative preliminary hearing. (Not all states have preliminary hearings. Some convene a grand jury to find probable cause.)
- Bail is established. The defendant has a right to argue for a bail reduction.
- Discovery is usually presented to the defense attorney. Discovery usually consists of a police report and a complaint. This varies by state. Some states do not provide discovery until after the preliminary hearing or indictment.
- If the defendant pleads guilty at the arraignment, the judge may sentence the defendant at that time.
In Mallory v. United States, 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an arraignment should take place as "quickly as possible". Each state views a speedy arraignment differently. Consult with an attorney to identify how quickly the defendant can expect an arraignment. Generally, the rule-of-thumb is to expect arraignment to occur within two days after being arrested. If the defendant is arrested and released on bail or on his own recognizance, arraignment may take longer than if he is arrested and remains in jail.
Five things the defendant should expect from his criminal defense attorney:
- The defense attorney must ethically and actively defend his client.
- The defense attorney must present all options to his client with recommendations and professional opinions.
- The defense attorney must prepare his client completely for each step in the legal process.
- The defense attorney must review all possible defense scenarios and interview all witnesses and review evidence in support of the clients case.
- The defense attorney must develop a theme to the defense. The theme is composed of a powerful defense strategy and a course of action to present reasonable doubt or otherwise minimize exposure or punishments.
Differences between Misdemeanors and Felonies
Consequences for misdemeanors and felony convictions are entirely different. A defendant must understand which crime he has been charged with in order to understand what will happen if convicted.
Generally, a misdemeanor crime is punishable by up to one year in county jail. Misdemeanor trials are held in the state's lower court, sometimes referred to as Municipal Court. (Names for these courts vary from state-to-state) Examples of misdemeanor crimes include drunk driving, disorderly conduct or shoplifting.
A felony crime is punishable by one year or more in state prison or a penitentiary. Felonies begin in the state's lower court system but may move up to the state Superior Court, or higher court. (Names for these courts vary from state-to-state) Sample felony crimes include murder, rape, or armed robbery.
The misdemeanor and felony arraignment processes are virtually identical to one another with one exception. In the misdemeanor arraignment process, a pre-trial in Municipal Court is the next step following arraignment. In the felony arraignment process, the next step is a pre-preliminary hearing or a preliminary hearing. Once the preliminary hearing is completed, a trial date is established. (Note: Some jurisdictions do not utilize the pre-preliminary hearing step)
It is recommended that the defendant receive legal representation prior to arraignment. A public defender may have little time to review the case before arraignment, or may not even be assigned the case until arraignment. Preparation is key to a successful defense. A private attorney can meet with the defendant prior to arraignment, review the case, and provide the defendant with step-by-step options prior to the arraignment process.