Can I Represent Myself At an Arraignment?

An arraignment is the legal procedure, also called a hearing, which begins the criminal process of your case. The arraignment takes place quickly after the arrest, usually within 48 hours not including weekends and holidays. If you are not being held in jail the arraignment will usually happen a few weeks after the arrest. This can change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The arraignment must be held as soon as possible in order to adhere to the defendant’s right to a speedy legal process. While some people choose to represent themselves at the arraignment, it may not be in your best interest to do so. Seeking representation by an experienced criminal defense attorney will almost always offer you the best possible options at your first hearing.

What Happens at an Arraignment?

There are several things that happen as part of the arraignment or first hearing process.

  • The judge provides a written statement of charges, prepared by the prosecutor.
  • The judge will determine whether bail is appropriate (if you are being held).
  • The amount of bail will be decided.
  • The defendant is allowed to respond to the charges.
  • The defendant may request defense counsel if unable to pay for his own.
  • The next court dates are set (pretrial conference, preliminary hearing, and trial).

If you have an attorney present for this proceeding he will represent you throughout. When possible, he will discuss the charges with the prosecutor and in some cases may be able to have your charges lowered. Also, your attorney will fight to have you released from jail either with no bail or with as low a bail as possible. All too often, a defendant simply allows the process to proceed without an attorney, which can sometimes be detrimental to your overall case.

How does an Arraignment Differ from a Trial?

An arraignment is a preliminary legal hearing that is faster and less formal than a trial. The arraignment process is usually a quick one with a hectic courtroom filled with activity. Many times attorneys and judges will refer to statute numbers and other cases when talking about your case. If you are unfamiliar with these procedures it may sound like the judge and attorneys are speaking a foreign language. This is another reason why having your attorney present will help you. However, if you are unclear about what is going on it is best to ask for assistance. A full understanding of the procedures is essential for a defendant to move forward in the process. The judge will ask you to plead not guilty, guilty, or no contest. Most defendants should plead not guilty at this point in the process. Once the arraignment is complete, the case will proceed at the specified dates. If bail has been set you can post it to be released.

How an Attorney Helps at an Arraignment

Having your attorney present to represent you at your arraignment is very helpful and can often offer immediate positive results. For example, your lawyer may be able to discuss your case briefly with the prosecutor before it goes in front of the judge. In cases where there are several charges or when the evidence is not sufficient, your lawyer will work with the prosecutor to try to have some charges eliminated or reduced. Another way your attorney can help is with bail. Your lawyer will represent you by presenting why your bail should be lowered or even eliminated. This can prove to be quite beneficial because if you are out of jail you can more easily try to resolve your case. Keep in mind that your lawyer will always do what is in your best interest and will offer you all of your options so that you can make the ultimate decisions in your own case.