Arraignment: The First Step in Criminal Court Proceedings

The arraignment is typically the first court hearing in a criminal case. What can you expect during these proceedings, and what should you do to protect your interests? These are issues on which our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys can offer insight.

Every case is different, but a typical arraignment may proceed as follows:

  • The defendant will be read his or her rights. In criminal proceedings, defendants have specific rights set forth by the U.S. Constitution. Understanding and asserting these rights can make all the difference in whether you are treated fairly and granted a fair trial.
  • The judge will explain what charges are being filed against the defendant and will explain what potential penalties may be enforced, such as imprisonment, fines, probation or community service.
  • The judge will ask the defendant to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest. This is a crucial moment for a defendant. If you enter a plea without consulting an attorney and wish to change your mind at a later date, this may require an appeal and may be difficult to accomplish. It is important to remember that you have the right to an attorney and do not have to enter a plea without first talking to an attorney. You may ask the court for a continuance, which is essentially a delay in proceedings, so you can seek legal counsel.
  • The defendant (and his or her attorney) will have the opportunity to speak with the prosecution regarding a potential plea bargain. This is an offer a prosecuting attorney may make to a defendant, usually requiring the defendant to enter a plea of guilty or no contest in exchange for a reduced sentence and/or reduced charges. This is another issue that you should carefully consider – with the involvement of your attorney – before accepting. A plea bargain may or may not be in your best interests, depending on the facts surrounding the case and the potential penalties you were facing. Your attorney may feel that you can successfully fight your case at trial and win, avoiding a conviction and penalties altogether.

There are a few tips we can offer during arraignment proceedings. The first is to exercise your right to an attorney. The second is to ask for a continuance if you have any doubts regarding whether to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest. The third is to carefully consider any plea agreement offered and to avoid making any important decisions without first consulting your attorney.

Your arraignment is not a criminal trial, but the decisions you make during these proceedings may have a considerable impact on your future. If you enter a plea of guilty, for example, you may face imprisonment and other penalties associated with the crime you were accused of committing. If you accept a plea bargain without first assessing its fairness, you may find that you have agreed to plead no contest or guilty to a charge that could have been dismissed.

At Lessem & Newstat, we recognize the important role that a criminal attorney plays through every step of legal proceedings in a criminal case. If you have been arrested and are facing an arraignment, or even if you have simply been accused of a crime or are under investigation by law enforcement, call our offices. The early involvement of a knowledgeable legal professional may make all the difference in your ability to avoid formal charges or a conviction. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated or pressured by law enforcement or the prosecuting attorney – invoke your right to legal counsel and call a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer who will fight for your rights.