What is an arraignment?

A half of a gavel, placed in front of a black background.

One of the very first questions that I ask someone when they call me regarding a criminal matter is whether they’ve been arraigned or had their arraignment. It’s a very important question, and I ask it because I want to understand where exactly a potential client is in their case. Oftentimes, when I ask it, the potential client will say that they have not, but after doing some digging, I find out they actually have been to an arraignment, which means that their case is further along than they may realize.

Before a person can be arraigned, the District Attorney will present evidence to a grand jury and ask the grand jury whether they feel as though there is enough evidence to formally charge someone. That formal charge is typed up in the form of an indictment, which is just a one- or two-page document explaining who is being charged and what they are being charged with. An arraignment is the hearing that a defendant attends immediately after being formally charged by the grand jury, where they are notified of the charges against them.

There are some other things that happen at an arraignment. For one, the judge may review the conditions of your bond, which means that the judge could potentially lower your bond (if you’re still in jail) or raise your bond if they feel that you are a flight risk. Another thing that will happen is that the judge will ask whether you have hired a criminal defense lawyer or plan on using a public defender. Perhaps the most important thing that will happen at your arraignment is that you will have the opportunity to enter a plea. ALWAYS ENTER A NOT GUILTY PLEA, even if you don’t have an attorney with you.

I’ll cover things that happen after arraignments in a later post, but the important thing to remember about arraignments is that even though they seem straightforward, this court appearance will set the tone for the rest of the case. Ideally, by the time that your arraignment comes up, you’ll have already hired or reached out to a lawyer, and that lawyer will be with you on the day of your arraignment to make sure everything runs as smooth as possible.

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