Most people are familiar with the terms “trial” and “court appearance.” The word “arraignment,” though, might be less familiar. If you find yourself caught up in the criminal justice system, you may soon have to learn all about arraignments: what they are, what happens at them and what they mean for you.
Arraignments: what to know
An arraignment is the first court appearance for those charged with a crime. Here, a judge determines whether there is enough probable cause to send your case to trial. At an arraignment, you can enter your plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest. Then, the court will set a trial date and your bond.
In minor offenses and cases involving first-time offenders, the court typically releases you after setting bond. It might also set certain conditions for your release, such as passing drug tests regularly and surrendering any firearms or other weapons.
What to expect at your arraignment
When you attend an arraignment, you have the right to representation from an attorney. You should dress in formal or business casual clothing and keep your appearance neat and tidy. Even if you feel frustrated by the charges against you, remain composed. Arraignments usually last only a few minutes, though you may wait for the judge to call your case for one or more hours.
The purpose of this hearing is not to determine whether you are guilty or not guilty. It is not a trial. It is merely the first step before the pre-trial negotiations or the trial. Still, you should not underestimate this step’s importance. It is crucial that you understand the legal details of an arraignment and how it will affect your case moving forward. When you have this knowledge on your side, you can make the choices that give you the best chance at dismissed charges, a favorable verdict or a light sentence.