How Should I Plead?

If you’ve been arrested or charged with a crime, the case will progress through the court system. Depending on the nature of the crime you may be released on bail or with no bail necessary. The first hearing for the case is also called an arraignment. The purpose of the arraignment is to provide the defendant with the charges and to enter the defendant’s plea. If possible, you’ll want to have your attorney present to represent you at this initial hearing. Arraignments are usually held quickly after an arrest – usually within 48 hours. When you’ve been charged with an offense but weren’t arrested, your court hearing is also considered your arraignment. For example, if you have been charged with DUI or other criminal traffic-related charge you’ll likely be issued a ticket. The ticket will indicate when your hearing will be. This hearing is also your arraignment.


The arraignment is a court hearing that is attended by the accused as well as the prosecutor. You must attend the arraignment in order to enter a plea. Your attorney should also attend this hearing. If you have already retained a lawyer he may file an appearance and enter the plea for you. During the arraignment the judge will read your official charges and allow you the opportunity to enter a plea. There are three plea choices at the arraignment:

  • Guilty
  • Not guilty
  • No contest

It is important that you consult with your attorney prior to the arraignment. This gives you the opportunity to ask questions so you can decide on the best option. When the crime is relatively minor, such as DUI, if you plead guilty or no contest the judge will immediately sentence you. For this reason, you should usually enter a plea of not guilty. Once you enter a plea you will not be able to change it. If you plead guilty you will be sentenced based on the guidelines for the particular offense. This could include jail time, fines, and possibly a suspension of your driver’s license.

Not Guilty

Entering a plea of not guilty affords you the ability to go to trial. The next step after a plea of not guilty is a pretrial hearing. The pretrial hearing will be scheduled for  a future date, usually in a few weeks. Before the pretrial hearing your attorney will have the opportunity to review the case and file a “demand for discovery”. A demand for discovery is a request that requires the prosecutor to turn over information that has been gathered about your case. It may include such things as the police report and list of witnesses and evidence. During the discovery process your attorney will be able to talk to witnesses about the case. This is called a deposition. Additionally, your lawyer will obtain any video or audio of your arrest, if it exists. Depositions are most often utilized only in felony cases.

Pretrial Hearing

The pretrial hearing is a court appearance. At the pretrial hearing the judge may determine whether the case can be settled without trial. You must attend the pretrial hearing unless you have been specifically excused by the judge in the case. One thing that could occur is a plea deal. This means that the prosecutor may offer you to take a plea of guilty to a lesser charge and the matter will be ended. Always consult with your attorney before agreeing to a plea deal. Your lawyer will review the situation and explain the consequences of the decision. If there is no plea deal the case will go to trial.