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Arraignments

The arraignment is the first time you go to court in front of a Judge. At the arraignment, you are told what the charges are against you and what your rights are, like the right to a trial and the right to have an attorney appointed for you if you don’t have the money to hire one. After you have been given an attorney, you then answer the charges. You answer the charges by telling the court if you are guilty or not guilty. This is called the plea. Before the plea, your lawyer and the prosecutor may talk about settling your case without having a trial. This is called Plea Bargaining. If you plead not guilty, you will get a court date for a hearing or trial. If you plead guilty, the court will decide your punishment. This is called the Sentencing.


Right to an Attorney

You have a right to a lawyer at the arraignment and for the rest of the case. You can hire your own lawyer. Or if you don’t have enough money to hire your own lawyer, the court will appoint a lawyer to defend you for free. You can also defend yourself, but understand that a criminal case is complicated and a guilty conviction can affect your life in other ways than jail time. See Collateral Consequences. A criminal lawyer can help you understand the charges, and find evidence and strategies to win the case.

If you have a good reason you cannot work with the free lawyer assigned to your case, let the Court know as you may be able to get a new lawyer assigned. You can also switch to a lawyer you hire at any time. Visit Find a Lawyer.


Release After the Arraignment

If you are in jail, the prosecutor can ask the Judge to keep you in jail or set bail. Bail is money or property that you put up as a promise to return for future court dates. Your lawyer will also have a chance to speak to the Judge about your release. If the Judge decides to set bail, then the Judge decides the amount of bail. If the Judge orders bail, you are sent back to jail until the bail is posted. Learn more about Bail.

The Judge can also release you on your own recognizance (ROR). This means that you promise to return for future dates without posting any bail. If you are arrested for a misdemeanor and do not have prior arrests, you have a good chance of being released without bail. If you are charged with a misdemeanor and bail is set and you can’t post it, you will stay in jail for approximately five days and if the prosecutor fails to give the court papers supporting the misdemeanor complaint (the papers are called the Information), a Judge will release you on your own recognizance.

If you are released after the arraignment, you must come back to court for every court date. If you don’t come to court, the Judge will order a warrant for your arrest. This is called a bench warrant. This means that the police will be notified to find and arrest you and bring you to court. If you posted bail, it may be forfeited. If the Judge orders a warrant this becomes part of your criminal record even if you are found innocent of the charges against you.


After the Arraignment

What happens after the arraignment depends on the crime you are charged with and your plea. If you plead guilty, visit Sentencing. If you plead not guilty and are charged with a felony, visit Preliminary Hearing and Grand Jury, otherwise visit Pre-trial.

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