What is an arraignment? What happens at the arraignment?

An arraignment is a very short court hearing where you will hear what crime you are being accused of and the judge will set “bail.” The judge decides how much your bail should be depending on things like what you are accused of, whether you have a criminal record, and whether the judge thinks that you would be likely to come back to court. If you are charged with a crime against someone else, the prosecutor may say that you are a “danger” to that person and that you should stay in jail, or that a high amount of bail should be set.

In some cases, the judge might decide that you can be released on your own (own recognizance release or “O.R.”) or with some conditions placed on you (supervised own recognizance release or “S.O.R.P.”), like having to go to meetings, wear an ankle monitor, or check in with someone, without having to pay bail. For some serious crimes, the judge may not set bail at all and could make you stay in custody, at least for the time being.

After the judge decides whether you will get released, they will set a date for your next court appearance. If you are getting released before your next court date, they might ask you if you want to “waive time.” “Waiving time” means that you agree to set court dates outside the required deadlines. For example, if you are charged with a misdemeanor, you have a right to a jury trial within 30 days if you are in custody and 45 days if you are out of custody. If you are charged with a felony, you have a right to a speedy preliminary hearing within 10 court days and 60 calendar days. Whether or not it makes sense to waive time in your case is something you should discuss with your lawyer.

The judge might also ask whether you plead “guilty” or “not guilty” to the charges against you. At your arraignment, you will almost always want to plead “not guilty.” Because the arraignment happens so fast, your lawyer probably will not have received the evidence (also known as “discovery”) or had a chance to come up with the best plan to fight or negotiate your case before you get arraigned. Do not worry, pleading “not guilty” at the arraignment will not be used against you in any way.

Even though it might be tempting to try to tell the judge about your case at the arraignment, this is usually a bad idea. Anything you say on the record can be used against you, and it is sometimes hard to tell whether what you are saying is helpful or not. An experienced criminal defense lawyer like Mr. Rios can speak up for you in a skillful way.

Things at the arraignment can move very fast and can be confusing to follow, but Mr. Rios understands the process and has been through it many times. Mr. Rios can stand next to you in court and help make the process seem less scary and easier to understand.