What is an arraignment?

The hearing where the accused enters a plea to criminal charges read out loud to him or her, is called an arraignment. When criminal charges have already been filed against a suspect, they are referred to as “accused”. The judge will require the accused who is out on bail or the accused who is detained in jail to appear in court to enter his or her plea.

What happens at an arraignment?

The court staff will call out the name of the accused. The accused is required to appear for arraignment. If the accused is out on bail and fails to appear for the arraignment, the judge will revoke the bail and issue a bench warrant. A bench warrant is a warrant of arrest ordering the police to bring the accused to court on a specified date and time.

When the accused appears in court, the judge will then determine if the accused is represented by a lawyer. If the accused is not represented, the judge will appoint a lawyer, usually a public defender to assist the accused in entering his or her plea.

The court personnel will then proceed to read the charge or charges. A charge sheet usually contains the name of the victim, the acts committed by the accused that constitute the crime, how the criminal acts were committed, when and where the acts were committed. After the charge is read, the court personnel will then ask how the accused pleads to the charge.

How can an accused plead?

The accused can plead “guilty” which means he admits the charges or “not guilty” which means he does not admit the charges brought against him. A plea of “guilty” means that there will no longer be any trial because the accused has admitted that he had committed the acts charged against him. If the accused pleads “not guilty” the case will proceed to plea bargaining and then to trial.

How are my rights protected during the arraignment?

The judge will often explain to the accused his rights. The judge also appoints a lawyer who will then explain to the accused the consequences of entering the plea of guilty or not guilty. The lawyer will then explain the possible penalties that may be imposed on the accused if he pleads guilty or if he is found guilty after trial. There are consequences to an accused person’s immigration status if he pleads guilty or is found guilty of a crime. It is best to tell your lawyer of your immigration status before entering a plea.

What if I don’t want to plead guilty or not guilty?

You may enter a plea of “nolo contendere” — this means “I do not contest the charges”. This is different from the plea of “guilty” because pleading guilty means you admit and acknowledge to have committed the criminal acts just as the prosecutor has charged on the sheet. If the victims of the criminal act will ask for damages to compensate them for any harm or injury that the accused person’s acts have caused to them, then they will not have to produce evidence to prove that the acts of the accused caused them the harm or injury. If the accused pleads “nolo contendere”, then the prosecutor will still need to present evidence of guilty.

The accused may also refuse to enter a plea or “stand mute”. In cases such as these, the judge will enter a plea of “not guilty” on behalf of the accused person. By refusing to enter a plea and standing mute, the accused will not be able to question the correctness of the proceedings. The accuse may still attack all irregularities in the proceeding prior to the arraignment (for example, if the arrest was unlawful or the search that led to the arrest was unlawful).

Is the judge obligated to accept the plea of the accused person?

No, especially when the accused person pleads guilty, the judge may ask the accused probing questions to determine if the accused person understands the rights he is giving up by pleading guilty. The judge will ask questions to satisfy himself that the accused is pleading guilty without coercion, threats or pressure. The judge will ask questions to satisfy himself that the accused really committed the acts complained of and is not covering up for another person.

Are you scheduled to appear before a judge for arraignment? Do you already have a lawyer? Have you already sought legal advice for your defense? Do you wish to know if it may be better for you to plead guilty? Do you wish to know the consequences on your liberty and your property and even your employability if you plead guilty? Call the Criminal Defense lawyers from the Ramiro J. Lluis Law Office. They are willing to help you.