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What happens at an arraignment?

Updated: Feb 18

Whether you are accused with a felony or a misdemeanor, and regardless of whether you are charged in municipal court, common pleas court, or federal court, the first court appearance should be an arraignment.

Generally, the arraignment is a chance for you to appear in front of the court, hear the charges against you along with the potential maximum punishments (length of incarceration and fines), address bond, and enter a plea of not guilty, no contest, or guilty.

Always remember to dress appropriately for court. We have a separate article on this issue, if you are not sure what to wear.

The arraignment is not an opportunity to discuss or argue the facts of your case. You want this to be an uneventful and unmemorable proceeding for you, the court, and the prosecution. Although, if the accused has not been released on bond, yet, the facts will have to be argued to some degree. It's critical that the accused and his/her counsel not close doors as to possible defenses.

Arraignment without Counsel.

When the Judge walks in the room, always remember to stand up, whether you hear someone announce "all rise" or not.

If you are attending your arraignment without counsel, then we suggest you only state the following, exactly as it reads. Leave the rest up to the Court:

- I am aware of the charges, and I want to enter a plea of Not Guilty to all counts.

- I am retaining counsel.

The Court may ask you if you want to set a pre-trial. No, you do not. They will schedule the matter for trial relatively quickly, but you do not want to be waiving your right to a speedy trial without speaking with an attorney. A request for a pre-trial will stop the clock on your speedy trial.

Misdemeanor Arraignment with Counsel.

If you retain counsel prior to your arraignment, there is a strong probability that you will not have to physically appear at the court for your arraignment. Your attorney will advise you as to this, but the arraignment can oftentimes be handled by filing written documents with the court in lieu of appearing in person.

Arraignment with Counsel.

Most courts perform several arraignments in a row, so many of the folks you will see at court will be there for the same reason.

Appearing with counsel often means you will moved to the front of the line, as a courtesy by the court for the attorneys. Regardless, you should expect to be at the court for at least an hour.

When the Judge walks in the room, always remember to stand up, whether you hear someone announce "all rise" or not.

The court will call your name and you along with your attorney will approach the podium or rise from counsel's table. Your counsel should handle most, if not all, of the speaking; although, some courts are different.

Your attorney will advise the court of whether you received a copy of your charges and whether you have had them for at least twenty-four (24) hours. (If you haven't had them for this long, you may wish to waive this right, as the remedy is just to require you to come back to court the next day.) Speak to your counsel about this.

Your attorney will advise the court whether you would like your charges read to you in open court. Again, this is a right, but some folks find this embarrassing or would prefer to get out of court sooner, especially if they are able to read and have spoken with their counsel about the nature of the charges already. Speak to your counsel about this.

Your attorney will advise the court of any defects in the time, place, or manner of service. If there are defects, this can be remedied while at the court, or it can be waived; speak to your counsel about this.

Your attorney will advise the court of your plea to the various counts and/or specifications. You should plead Not Guilty, as this will give your attorney and you a chance to review the discovery (evidence) against you prior to determining what actions to take in your matter. (It is unlikely you will receive your discovery for some time after your arraignment.)

Your attorney may request a pre-trial at this point; however, it is important that the accused understand this request will toll (stop) the speedy trial calculation. It's even more critical that be understood if the accused is incarcerated.

Lastly, your attorney may argue bond at this stage. Often courts will hear the arguments, but they will not necessarily rule upon the issue of bond making modifications. It has become increasingly common for courts to defer to the probation department for a recommendation prior to modifying bond. (Oddly, courts generally have not heard from probation at the time they set the initial bond.)



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