The arraignment is an official court proceeding. It is the first time a defendant goes to the court in front of a judge. At the arraignment, the defendant is told what the charges are against them and what their rights are, like the right to trial and the right to have an attorney appointed for them if they don’t have the money to hire one. After the defendant has been given an attorney, the defendant must answer the charges. This is called entering a plea. The defendant will either enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Before the plea, defense counsel and the prosecutor may talk about settling the case without having a trial. This is called Plea Bargaining. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the court will select a future date for a hearing or trial. If the defendant pleads guilty, the court will decide the appropriate punishment. This is called the Sentencing.


Right to an Attorney

When someone is arrested, they have a right to a lawyer at the arraignment and for the rest of the case. They can hire their own lawyer. If they don’t have enough money to hire one, the court will appoint a lawyer to defend them for free. There is no rule that a person must have a lawyer. They can choose to defend themselves.

It is important to understand that a criminal case can be very complicated. A person who is found guilty may affected in other ways than jail time. See Collateral Consequences. A criminal lawyer can help someone understand the charges against them, and gather evidence and strategies to win the case.

If there is a good reason that someone cannot work with the free lawyer assigned to their case, that person should let the Judge know. They may be able to get a new lawyer assigned. They can also choose to hire their own lawyer at any time during the case. Visit Find a Lawyer.


Release After the Arraignment

If the defendant is in jail, the prosecutor can ask the Judge to keep the defendant in jail or set bail. Bail is money or property that a defendant or someone on their behalf puts up as a promise to the court that the defendant will return to court for future dates. The defense lawyer will also have a chance to speak to the Judge about the defendant’s release. If the Judge decides to set bail, then the Judge decides the amount of bail. If the Judge orders bail, the defendant is sent back to jail until the bail is posted. Learn more about Bail.

The Judge can also release the defendant on their own recognizance (ROR). This means that the defendant promises to return to court for future dates without posting any bail. If the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor and bail is set and the defendant does not post the bail, the defendant will stay in jail. If the prosecutor fails to file the court papers supporting the misdemeanor complaint (the papers are called the information) within five days, the Judge will release the defendant on their own recognizance.

If the defendant is released after the arraignment, the defendant must come back to court for ever court date. If the defendant does not come to court on a scheduled court date, the Judge may order a warrant for the defendant’s arrest. This means that the police will be directed to find and arrest the defendant and bring the defendant to court. If the defendant posted bail, the bail ay be forfeited if the defendant fails to come to court. If the Judge orders a warrant, this becomes part of the defendant’s criminal record even if the defendant is found innocent of the charges.


After the Arraignment

What happens after the arraignment depends on the charges and the plea. If the defendant pled guilty, visit Sentencing. If the defendant plead not guilty and they are charged with a felony, visit Preliminary Hearing and Grand Jury, or Pre-trial.

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