What Happens at an Arraignment?

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingSep 06, 2017

In Los Angeles, the arraignment is the first official court appearance before a judge. The defendant will be presented with the charges and will have to enter a plea to those charges. After the plea is entered, the judge will set the next court date and set bail for the defendant based on the criminal charges. In my opinion, the arraignment is a critical stage in the proceedings and should be handled by your chosen criminal lawyer.

The Criminal Arraignment Process in California

There is usually no negotiating for felony criminal charges at the arraignment, and a new court date is typically set to give the defendant and their attorney an opportunity to go over the police report, discuss the case, do any investigation and make a strategic decision on how the case will proceed.

However, in misdemeanor cases, I see the prosecution and defense negotiating all of the time to resolve the issue. This usually occurs in cases where the defendant is in custody, does not have an excellent defense, and wants to make a deal to get out of custody and move on with their life.

The arraignment court is also used to resolve criminal cases in some courthouses. The defendant can either continue the arraignment or enter a not guilty plea and set the next court date for that particular court's early disposition program.

If the case is resolved at the next court date, then a probation report will be ordered, and the prosecutor will be ready to negotiate at the next court date. Knowing the particular court system and how cases are dealt with is crucial knowledge your attorney must possess.

Do You Need a Lawyer at the Arraignment? 

In all felony and misdemeanor cases, a criminal defendant will need an attorney to represent them at all stages of the case. Even though most courts will let a person express themselves, the judges typically discourage a person from representing themselves and suggest that they hire their attorney.

The court will even usually give the person some time to hire their attorney because this right is so important. People who do not know what they are doing will cause problems in the court and make things move slower than usual and generate more work for everyone concerned.

If a defendant at an arraignment says they can not afford an attorney, they can apply to see if they qualify to be represented by the Public Defender. If the person qualifies, then a Deputy Public Defender will be appointed to the case and take over the defendant's representation. Sometimes the court may still make the person pay for the PD's representation, but the fee will not be that high, and it will certainly not stop the attorney from doing their job.

In my opinion, you are at an advantage in a criminal case if you hire a private attorney because the personal attorney will usually have more time to handle your case and make the moves that will get you the best possible result. Even at the arraignment, having your attorney can give you an advantage.

Your attorney will usually go before the court armed with all of the information necessary to correctly argue your bail and get you released on your own recognizance or set a bail that you may be able to post. Further, the best private criminal defense attorneys will begin figuring out how your case should be dealt with right from the beginning. Arraignment is an important starting point for any criminal matter.