After formal charges have been brought against a criminal defendant (either by indictment or accusation), the case will be scheduled for arraignment. I often receive calls asking what on earth an arraignment is and what the defendant and his/her family should expect to occur at the hearing. As I tell all my clients, an arraignment is nothing to be feared. It is simply the first opportunity for the defendant to appear before the trial judge during which he/she will have the opportunity to have the charges read in open court and to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Since most people can read, the option to have the charges read in open court is routinely waived. Prosecutors present the defendant and/or his attorney with a copy of the indictment or accusation as well as a list of witnesses that the State intends to call during the trial of the case. If the defense attorney has filed the appropriate motions ahead of time, the State will frequently provide the defense with a copy of the evidence in the case.
ENTERING A PLEA
Often, defendants will enter a plea of not guilty at the arraignment even if they intend to eventually plead guilty to the charge. This allows their attorney time to review the discovery (the State’s evidence), obtain any additional evidence that might be helpful to the defense and to negotiate the case with the prosecutor. A plea of guilty can be entered at the arraignment calendar call but typically negotiations between the defense attorney and prosecutor will have had to have occurred before the arraignment date. It is also possible to waive the arraignment and enter a plea of not guilty to the charge before the hearing date (via a document signed by the defendant and his/her attorney and filed with the court), which avoids the necessity of the defendant having to appear in court at the arraignment calendar.
NOTICE OF ARRAIGNMENT
If you have received a Notice of Arraignment, it is important to contact your an attorney (or hire one if you do not have one) and alert them of the hearing. Do NOT miss an arraignment calendar unless you have cleared it with your attorney as a warrant for your arrest for failure to appear will be issued.
Please contact my office at 404-474-2531 if you need assistance with any criminal matter.