What happens at the arraignment?
1. CHARGES. A criminal arraignment is usually a first court appearance for a defendant. At the arraignment, the defendant appears in front of a judge and he/she is informed of the charges against him/her. The defendant is handed a statement prepared by the prosecutor, which outlines the charges and the reasons for their existence.
2. CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS. The defendant is also advised of the constitutional rights such as a right to remain silent, to a speedy and public trial, to confront and cross-examine all witnesses, and to present evidence in his/her behalf. An attorney will be appointed to a defendant who cannot afford one.
3. PLEA. The defendant will then have an opportunity to enter a plea. This plea will be on public record. The defendant may enter a plea of “guilty,” whereas she/he admits the commission of the crime. The defendant may enter “no contest” plea, whereas the defendant does not contest the charges (this has the same effect as a plea of guilty). And finally, the defendant may enter a “not guilty” plea, meaning that he/she did not commit the crime.
Our clients are always advised to enter a plea of NOT GUILTY for many reasons. First of all, a prosecutor may dismiss the case before the next court date. By entering a guilty plea, you have eliminated the chance of the case being dropped. Even if you intend to enter a plea of guilty, you might be able to receive a reduced charge or a reduced punishment by signing a plea deal with a prosecutor at the next court date. All pleas may have negative implications of your immigration status. It is best to consult with an attorney who deals with both criminal and immigration law if you are a non-citizen.
4. DATES. If the defendant is not in custody, then he/she will receive two court dates. You will be able to choose if you waive a right to speedy trial, and thus the dates could be set for a later time. Your attorney can explain the advantages of waiving time, especially if you already bailed out of custody. The first date will be for a readiness conference and the second for the preliminary exam. If you forget your next court date you may search it under “Resources” tab on our website above, and then clicking on -> “SD DA Case Info.”
If you are in custody, then the last step of the arraignment involves your criminal defense attorney and the prosecutor making recommendations on the bail amount. The bail is set and the defendant is remanded to custody or the defendant is released on his/her own recognizance. Then the defendant will receive two court dates. The first date will be for a readiness conference and the second for the preliminary exam. If you forget your next court date you may search it under “Resources” tab on our website above, and then clicking on -> “SD DA Case Info.”
Should I hire an attorney before an arraignment?
We absolutely recommend having a criminal defense attorney on your side at your arraignment. First of all, this is an actual court appearance before a judge. Many people get nervous in court and rather have an assistance of the criminal defense attorney. An attorney may also explain to you the criminal complaint against you, the charges, the risks, and your options.
Even if you waited until Sunday before your Monday arraignment. Call our office and leave a voice-mail message. Our voice-mail messages are checked daily even if we are out of the office. There should not be a reason why your attorney is not present with you at the arraignment, especially if you eventually plan on hiring a criminal defense attorney.