When a person is arrested in California, they have a right to know what the charges are against them. They also have a right to plead guilty or not guilty. This all happens at an arraignment. It can be a particularly nerve-wrecking time for anyone, even those who have been charged with criminal activity previously.
Knowing what to expect can help relieve some anxiety, and so at James M. Taylor Law Offices, our criminal defense attorney based in Riverside will inform you of the process and your rights. We believe informed clients make the best decisions for themselves. Contact us at 951-849-2081 to schedule a Free Consultation and get the help you need to get the best outcome in your unique situation.
Arraignment Process in California
An arraignment is your initial appearance in open court. Its purpose is to advise the defendant of their right to know the charges against them, as such, the judge formally reads the charge or charges to a defendant and asks the defendant how they plead.
Timing of the Arraignment
A defendant cannot be held indefinitely without knowing what the charges are against them. They must be allowed to seek release from custody, if possible. An initial appearance, therefore, usually occurs within a reasonable time of the defendant being arrested and charged, even though the precise timing of arraignment varies. Arraigning the defendant at an early stage ensures:
- Their case is progressing; and
- They are not spending more time in custody than necessary.
Summary of an Arraignment
The specific procedures and rules for arraignment vary among jurisdictions. In addition to reading the charges and taking the defendant's plea, a court may also read out the substance of the charges, confirm that the defendant understands them, and inform the defendant of their relevant constitutional rights, like their right to a court-appointed lawyer.
The judge may also decide on bail and schedule a court hearing on it. Depending on how the person pleads, the judge may also schedule a sentencing hearing, pretrial conference, and/or a trial.
The Right to Waive Arraignment
You also have the right to waive arraignment. This is not in your best interests, however, unless you have hired a criminal defense attorney who has successfully negotiated terms of release with the prosecutor before the arraignment. This often happens when the charges are less serious.
Arraignment versus Indictment in California
Sometimes there is confusion regarding an arraignment or an indictment because in both instances, the alleged suspect is informed of charges to be brought against them. An arraignment, however, is different from an indictment. While an arraignment is an opportunity for a defendant to hear the charges against them and enter a plea, an indictment is a legal document formally charging a defendant with a crime and is usually only used in felony cases.
A defendant can be charged by law enforcement authorities or by an indictment issued by a legal authority, such as a prosecutor. Once a defendant has been charged, their case proceeds to an arraignment hearing.
To note, in some states, a grand jury must issue an indictment. A grand jury is a group of impartial, randomly selected citizens who hear from the prosecution and witnesses. Then, they decide whether sufficient evidence exists for the defendant to be charged.
Understanding Pleas at an Arraignment in California
When a judge asks a defendant how they plead to a charge during an arraignment hearing, a defendant can enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
- A guilty plea indicates the defendant accepts the charges and allegations. By entering a guilty plea, the matter will proceed to sentence either immediately after the arraignment or at a later date.
- A not-guilty plea indicates the defendant is contesting the allegations and the matter will proceed to the next step, which is usually a preliminary hearing. Pleading not guilty is advised because it offers you the only opportunity you will have to either (1) negotiate a plea deal; or (2) fight the charges against you. Remember: the State of California must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty, and that is a high bar to achieve. Our criminal defense attorney in Riverside will fight for you, and if a plea deal is in your best interest, we make sure the terms favor you and not the state.
- A no-contest plea indicates the defendant is accepting a conviction for the charge but not admitting guilt. Like a guilty plea, the matter will proceed to sentence either immediately after arraignment or at a later date.
Will I Be Released or Taken into Custody?
The judge decides whether a defendant is released on their own recognizance, is released after granting bail, or is taken into custody.
To be released on your own recognizance, the following two factors must exist:
- The charge is less serious; and
- You pose no risk to others.
To be released on bail, the judge will consider the following factors:
- Whether you have family ties in the area
- What your ability and resources are to flee the city, state, or even the country
- What danger, if any, you pose to the community
- Your criminal record
- Any other factor that may be relevant
When released either on your own recognizance or by bail, the judge can set certain terms and conditions of the release. If you violate the conditions, you can be taken into custody.
Some defendants after the arraignment may be immediately taken into custody. This does not automatically mean you will not be released. You are entitled to a bail hearing where you can challenge the judge's decision.
In any of the scenarios, it is always best to have a competent, committed criminal defense representing your interests. At James M. Taylor Law Offices, our criminal defense lawyer works to effect an outcome best for all our clients. We have the skill, knowledge, and resources to negotiate, strategize, and argue successfully in your defense.
Do You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer for an Arraignment in California?
You're not always legally required to have a lawyer represent you at an arraignment hearing. However, it's worthwhile speaking to an attorney before your arraignment so you can obtain advice relevant to your case and the options available to you. Engaging an attorney at this early stage also allows them to start preparing for your trial.
That said, it is in your best interests to be represented by an attorney. Going before a judge in open court is stressful. It is at the arraignment that you realize the gravity of what you face. A lawyer by your side will ensure your rights are upheld and advise you on what to say to the judge so that you do not make a bad impression.
Plus, if you seek release, a judge may set harsh conditions for your release. An attorney can counter those conditions and persuade a judge to set different, more favorable terms.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Riverside Today
An arraignment can be scary for many people, especially if it is your first time before a judge in open court. All eyes will be on you when the charges against you are read. Not only is a criminal defense attorney a strategic move on your part, it is also a comforting one. Knowing that someone has your interests in mind will help you throughout the course of the arraignment and your criminal case.
Contact James M. Taylor Law Offices today either by filling out the online form or calling us at 951-849-2081 to schedule a Free Consultation. We are here to help you get through the criminal system as best as possible.