For any criminal case to be filed against you, there must be an arraignment on the charges. An arraignment will probably one of the very first court appearance you will make. The purpose for an arraignment is to inform the individual accused of a public offense the nature of the charge(s). You will be given a chance to enter a plea. The most commong ples are guilty, not guilty or nolo contender. The arraignment process and statutory rights are different depending on your custody status and if the prosecution is charging you with a felony or a misdemeanor.
Arraignment on a Misdemeanor
For an arraignment on a Misdemeanor offense, the judge will call your case and inform you of the offense(s) charged against you. You will be asked how you want to plead and your options are guilty, not guilty or nolo contender. Keep in mind that a plea of Nolo contender will be treated the same way as guilty for purposes of criminal proceedings. The judge will also inform you of your statutory and constitutional rights, along with your right to be represented by an attorney. If you were arrested on a warrant and are in custody you have a right to an arraignment within 48 hours of the arrest excluding Sundays and holidays. (California Penal Code section 825) However, if you were arrested without a warrant you have a right to an arraignment within 48 hours which will also entail a probable cause hearing for the warrantless arrest. This 48 hour period includes weekends and holidays.
There will be a reading of the accusatory pleading called the complaint. The judge will also inform you of your right to an attorney. It is beneficial to have an attorney at the time of arraignment as the attorney will be able to determine the best possible solution or strategy given the circumstances. Dates will then be ordered for up coming appearances and the trial date will also be scheduled.
Arraignment on a Felony
All the procedures regarding an arraignment on a Misdemeanor also apply to felony arraignments. The main difference is that after the arraignment on the complaint, the court will schedule a hearing called a preliminary hearing. A defendant has a right to a preliminary hearing within 10 days of the arraignment unless time is waived. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to determine if there is any probable cause to hold you to answer to the charged offense. If you are held to answer, there will be a second arraignment on a second accusatory pleading called the information. This information must be filed within 15 days of the preliminary hearing. Failure to file results in a dismissal under PC 1382(a)(1).
At this second arraignment, you will again be notified of the charges against you based on the information, given an opportunity to enter your plea, advised of your right to an attorney and given notification of other constitutional and statutory rights. Trial dates and other court appearances will also be scheduled.
It is very important to retain a competent and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney at this stage. A competent attorney will be able to explain your certain rights, determine the best solution, file the appropriate motions and immediate spot any issues that could be used to get you the best outcome possible.
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