An arraignment is a court hearing in which the defendant in a criminal case enters a plea. The arraignment is the first court date after the prosecution has filed the formal criminal charges against the defendant or the grand jury returned a true bill indicting the defendant.
The arraignment date may have been written on the summons received by the defendant. If the defendant has not received the date on the summons, the date will be served on him at the address on the summons or the address on the bond sheet. It is important to always keep your bondsman informed if your address changes. Also, notify the Clerk of Court if your address changes or is different than that on the bond sheet.
At the arraignment, the Court will inform the defendant of the charges against him/her and ask the defendant to enter a plea. The defendant must then plead not guilty, guilty, or not guilty by reason of insanity. The defendant should have an attorney at this time. Other court dates will be assigned after the defendant is arraigned.
For example, John Smith was arrested for DWI. When he bonded out of jail, the jailer gave him a notice to appear in court on January 1. That court appearance is the arraignment. Before that arraignment happens, the prosecutor will examine the police reports and evidence to determine the formal charge he will file against John Smith if he decides he can prove DWI, he will file a bill of information charging John with DWI. At the arraignment, there will likely be a long list of other defendants needing to be arraigned. John will wait in the audience until his name is called. Once the court calls John Smith’s name, he will walk to the front of the courtroom, usually to a podium. John will be present with his attorney. The attorney will enroll as counsel and enter a plea of not guilty on behalf of John Smith. If John failed to bring a lawyer, the judge may tell him to come back with his lawyer.
Arraignment for a felony is similar to arraignment for a misdemeanor. The judge will inform the defendant of the criminal charges against him. If the judge or prosecutor reads the bill of information or indictment aloud, that is called a formal arraignment. Usually, the defense attorney will waive formal arraignment and enter a plea of not guilty. In misdemeanor cases, there is no right to a formal arraignment, yet it is done in some jurisdictions.
After the defendant pleads not guilty at an arraignment in court for a felony, the judge will give a new court date for the defendant to appear in court again. The next hearing is dependent on the jurisdiction and that particular judge. Different judges have different procedures following the arraignment for a felony. For instance, the judge may set the matter for Pre-Trial Conference or even Pre-Trial Conference and Trial. The judge could set the case for Motion Hearing, Status, For Further Proceedings, and/or Guilty Plea Cut-Off. If the defendant is not present with a lawyer, the judge may reschedule the matter for arraignment again to give the defendant time to hire a lawyer.
The process is similar at the arraignment hearing for a misdemeanor. The judge or prosecutor may inform the defendant of the formal charges against him and will ask him how he pleads. The defendant will usually enter a not guilty plea. The difference is what happens after the misdemeanor arraignment. The judge will likely set the matter for Trial. There will not be all the other court dates in between, as for a felony.
Many times, we go to court for our clients and do the arraignment without their presence. This is only for misdemeanor arraignments. This is a huge benefit to our clients because it saves them time and money travelling and having to miss work or school.
Regardless of whether the case is a misdemeanor or felony, what happens after the arraignment hearing is similar. The defense attorney will file a motion for discovery so that the judge will order the prosecutor to turn over anything it plans on using at trial against the defendant. This may include reports, videos, witness statements, blood tests, forensic evidence, etc. Then, the defense lawyer can examine the case to determine what is best for the defendant. The defendant will have the option of going to trial or taking a plea deal. The route the defendant goes is based on the deal the attorney is able to get and the provable facts of the case. The defense attorney will use the time after the arraignment to negotiate with the prosecutor and figure out how to resolve the case in the defendant’s best interest.
The arraignment only takes a minute. However, you can wait all day until your name is called. Most judges will allow private counsel to call up their clients at the beginning of court. That drastically reduces your wait time. The defendants who use the public defender instead of hiring a lawyer may have to wait all day.
If you have a criminal defense attorney present with you, it is likely you won’t have to say anything at the arraignment. Some jurisdictions will want you to introduce yourself on the record so they know who you are and have a correct address for you. Therefore, you might say your name, date of birth, and address. But, some judges don’t want to hear all that. They just want your name or just have the lawyer do the talking. After that, most defendants will say ‘Not Guilty’ or the lawyer will say it for them. Generally, you do not want to plead guilty at the arraignment. There are some tactical reasons to plead guilty at the arraignment. But, that is for you and your lawyer to determine.
The arraignment is not the hearing to argue your case and get into the facts. The judge will shut you down in a heartbeat. Most times, it is not the time to resolve the case either. The arraignment hearing is strictly procedural. It is important that you are present in court on time and courteous. If you act like you are too good to be there or with any other attitude that the judge picks up on, he will have you remanded and can give you up to 90 days in jail for Contempt of Court.
It is important that you are dressed appropriately in court and at your arraignment. We like our clients to wear business casual clothing such as pants and a shirt tucked in or a conservative dress without shoulders showing. Many judges will throw a fit if the female defendant is dressed too sexy or if the male defendant doesn’t have his shirt tucked in. Also, never wear a hat in the courtroom and have your phone turned off.
You will need a lawyer for your arraignment. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the judge may appoint the public defender to represent you ONLY if he determines that you are too indigent to hire an attorney. We are criminal defense attorneys dedicated to criminal defense in all parts of Louisiana. We have defended hundreds of clients charged with criminal cases. We know all the ins and outs of providing effective representation for a criminal charge. Our criminal defense attorneys have a combined 100 years of criminal defense experience. If you are in search of a criminal attorney for your arraignment, give us a call. You won't even have to come to our office, unless you prefer to. We can tell you over the phone how much representation for a case will cost.
If you have a criminal charge, contact Carl Barkemeyer, Criminal Defense Attorney at (225) 964-6720 for a criminal defense attorney.
H. Taylor - Baton Rouge, Louisiana