Monday, May 2, 2011

What Is An Arraignment Hearing?

If you have ever attended a criminal arraignment, you probably thought at the end of the hearing “Now why did I have to do this?”

In a criminal arraignment, the judge will usually call the defendant to the podium and say “Mr. Jones, you are charged with shoplifting, which is a felony. How do you plead?”

If you have a criminal defense attorney, he will answer for you and say something like “The Defendant pleads not guilty, waives formal reading of the indictment, requests a copy of the indictment and list of witnesses, and asks for 10 days to file motions. We are going to opt in on discovery.”

And you sat down. What just happened?

The arraignment hearing is an important proceeding in the criminal process. It is when the defendant is informed of exactly what charges the State has brought against him. He receives a copy of the charges and a list of the state’s witnesses. If the defendant wishes, the District Attorney will read the charges to him in open court. This was very important in the past when the majority of defendants could not read. If the defendant wishes, he can enter a plea of guilty to the charges and be sentenced. Many times the pleas will be taken after the arraignment calendar is called.

It also allows the Court to be sure an indigent defendant has appointed counsel to help him prepare his case for trial and allows the Defendant 10 days to file any Motions in his case. Be aware that allowing the extra time to file motions is discretionary with the judge. Court rules require that motions should be filed on the day of the arraignment and some judges will not allow them to be filed after that.

The arraignment is also the time when the State determines whether they are going to have to try your case. If you plead guilty at the arraignment, then the case is over and you are sentenced. If you plead not guilty, the State will then begin preparing their case for trial and your attorney will begin preparing your defense. The Court will then place your case on a trial calendar to set the time for trial.