An arraignment is a legal proceeding that occurs after an arrest. The arraignment is also called a first appearance because it’s the first time a defendant will appear before a judge in their case. You may be familiar with these hearings. In general, the arraignment is a fast and simple process, yet it shouldn’t be completed without a full understanding of the events and potential consequences involved.

What Happens in an Arraignment?

The arraignment serves three main purposes:

  • Provide the defendant with the exact charges against him or her
  • Record the defendant’s initial plead
  • Set bail

In addition, the next hearing date will likely be set at this time. Depending on the severity and complexity of the case, there will likely be a status hearing or a hearing to exchange information prior to the trial. It can be extremely beneficial to have your attorney available for the arraignment. If there is any question about the charges, or if the evidence is weak, your attorney may work with the prosecutor to lower the charges or drop some of them. Without an attorney, this review won’t take place.

How to Enter a Plea

Once the charges are officially entered against you, the judge will request a plea. There are three possible pleas that could be made- guilty, not-guilty, and no-contest. Entering a plea without having spoken to an attorney could harm your case going forward. It’s important to review the facts of the case to determine the best way to proceed. A plea of not guilty is usually the most beneficial; however, each case is different, so always consult with a lawyer. If you are being held in jail you will, of course, have to attend the arraignment. If you are not in jail and you have a lawyer, your lawyer can attend the hearing and present your written plea, in which case you may not have to be there.

Bail or Jail

If you are in jail, the arraignment will usually take place very quickly – within about 2 days. It’s definitely helpful to have an attorney to assist in the bail setting process. Your lawyer will be able to quickly present a few reasons why you should be allowed a low bail or no bail at all. For example, if this is your first serious offense and you have otherwise been a good citizen, it’s easier to make a case for you to be out on bail. Those who have families and jobs are also more likely to be allowed out on bail because they are not considered to be flight risks. In some cases, the judge will set a reasonable bail so you’ll be able to get out of jail while awaiting trial. If the charges against you are reduced, it may mean a lower bail. Consult with your attorney before your arraignment to get the best possible outcome for your case.