I have often told clients that our next hearing is an “arraignment”. I never really gave too much thought about it, until a new client innocently asked “what is an arraignment, and what happens at an arraignment?” Great question, that many lawyers (myself included), just presume that a client understands the term arraignment. An arraignment is a hearing in a criminal case, where an accused has an opportunity to enter a plea to the charge filed against them. An accused has the right to have the charge read in open court, or they may waive the reading. There are four available pleas: Not Guilty – which is a complete denial of the charge; Guilty – which is a complete admission to the charge; No Contest – which is not an admission of guilt, but it is an admission to the facts alleged in the complaint or indictment, and usually enables a court to make a finding of guilt; lastly, there is a plea of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity, which is self explanatory and must be submitted in writing to the court. Next, a trial judge is typically assigned to preside over the case. Last, if bond has not been previously set, the court will set a bond to insure the appearance of the accused at all future hearings. Many clients are surprised how short an arraignment hearing is – often five minutes or less. Once the arraignment is concluded, many courts will require an accused to be “processed”, which includes taking fingerprints, photographs, a DNA swab and a worldwide warrant check. I always advise my clients to make certain that they have no outstanding warrants, unpaid tickets or unpaid fines BEFORE coming to an arraignment. Otherwise, they could be held until those matters are cleared.
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