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While getting arrested is disturbing and frightening, it is only the beginning of your involvement in the criminal justice system. This is not the time for a pity party. Collect yourself and put your best foot forward. Your arraignment will set the tone for your entire criminal situation. What happens here can send your situation south. The information in this article will serve as your guide to achieving the best possible outcome in your criminal case.
WHEN YOU ARE FACING AN ARRAIGNMENT, PROPER REPRESENTATION CAN HELP YOU ACHIEVE THE BEST POSSIBLE OUTCOME IN YOUR CRIMINAL MATTER.
PREPARING FOR YOUR ARRAIGNMENT
The best thing to do for your arraignment is to hire a criminal defense attorney. Criminal law is complex and not something to be tackled by a private citizen. The attorney will most likely advise you to enter a plea of "not guilty." Pleading "not guilty" protects your constitutional right to a fair trial and gives your attorney time to prepare your case and explore opportunities that may minimize penalties.
Other Important Arraignment Preparation
As you mentally prepare yourself for your arraignment, keep the following points in mind:
WHAT HAPPENS AT AN ARRAIGNMENT?
- Plan to arrive 30 minutes early. Even though you will likely be waiting it is not worth it to risk being late.
- Make sure you are dressed appropriately and well groomed. Beach wear, work out clothing or clothing with logos or saying make a very negative impression.
- Check in with a court officer or court clerk upon entering. Do not approach the judge or the bench (where the judge sits) without permission.
- Listen attentively for when you are called in front of the judge, and then respond immediately.
- Answer the judge’s questions regarding your understanding of the charges you’re facing. If you do understand, say yes. If you do not understand the charges, respectfully ask the judge to explain them. During this open-ended question, answering that you understand the charges will not be considered an admission of guilt.
- Do not discuss your case with anyone you encounter. The only person you should discuss your case with is your attorney.
After your arrest on a felony or misdemeanor, an arraignment is usually a defendant's first court appearance in front of a judge and the prosecutor. A typical arraignment takes 5-15 minutes. During the arraignment the defendant is informed of their charges, enters a plea, sets bail and cancels outstanding arrest warrants.
Reading of the Charges
A judge reads through the charges unless the defendant chooses to waive the formal reading of the complaint. This means that the court does not have to read the charges out loud because the defendant knows the nature of the charges. The defendant also is entitled to receive a copy of the charging document.
defendants are advised of the charges that have been filed as well as their legal and constitutional rights.
Entering a Plea
For misdemeanor charges the judge will ask the defendant if they want to plead guilty, not guilty, stand mute (which the court treats as a not guilty plea) or no contest. If the charge the defendant is facing is a felony, the judge will automatically enter a plea of not guilty.
The court looks at several factors when setting bonds. Those factors include:
Setting a Court Date/Canceling Warrants
- The seriousness of the offense charged.
- The need to protect the public from the defendant.
- The defendant’s substance abuse and addiction history.
- The defendant’s mental condition, including any reputation for dangerousness.
- The weight of the evidence against the defendant.
- The defendant’s previous criminal history or prior contacts with law enforcement.
- The likelihood of the defendant to return to court and not flee the court’s jurisdiction.
- The defendant’s connections to the community, such as family, employment, and real estate ownership.
- Whether friends or family are willing to give assurances that the defendant is not a danger and will show up for court.
Lastly, the judge will set an official court date for the defendant’s next appearance before the court. If this is a misdemeanor case then it could be as soon as a few weeks. However, things like how busy the courts are or if you’ve been in jail since your arrest can affect that time frame by several weeks. If a warrant existed for this case, the court will cancel it.
HOW A LAWYER CAN HELP SECURE A LOW BOND
One of the lawyer’s jobs at the arraignment is to do everything possible to convince the court to order an affordable bond for the client. The lawyer’s job at the arraignment is to do everything possible to convince the court to order an affordable bond for the client. A high bond that results in the client’s incarceration will likely have a detrimental impact on the charges’ outcome.
If an individual comes to their arraignment and a high bond is set, it is difficult to get a judge to change the bond after the fact. The best hope for a defendant to be released on a minimal bond is to have a lawyer at the arraignment.
It is not uncommon for people to come to court to be arraigned on an arrest warrant without a lawyer. These individuals have no awareness of the possible perils that may await them, and they figure there will be time later to find an attorney. If the accused gets arraigned and a high bond is set, they may not be able to get out of jail. Inability to post bond is a serious problem because that bond cannot be changed unless there is a finding that the arraigning magistrate or judge “abused his discretion.” It is difficult to get a judge to change a bond after the fact because they do not want to make a ruling that a colleague did something improper or imprudent. The best hope for a defendant to be released on a minimal bond is to have a lawyer at the arraignment on a warrant in Michigan.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A FELONY AND MISDEMEANOR ARRAIGNMENT
The major difference between felony and misdemeanor arraignments is at felony arraignments, the defendant will be given dates for his probable cause conference and preliminary exam. A preliminary exam is a “mini trial” where a prosecutor must prove the elements of the crime the defendant is charged with. The proof at a preliminary exam is much lower than the burden of proof at a trial. The prosecutor only needs to show there is probable cause that a crime happened and that there is probably cause that the defendant was the person who committed the crime.
THE RIGHT TO COUNSEL
The judge will not offer a court appointed attorney unless the accused is facing jail time if convicted of a crime. The other reason a person may be denied a court appointed attorney or a public defender is they make too much money.
Defendants who are ineligible for court-appointed counsel and need additional time to hire an attorney can ask the judge to "continue" (delay) the arraignment for a week or so.
YOU WERE CHARGED WITH A CRIME. WHY NOT PLEAD GUILTY RIGHT AWAY?
Sometimes people who are charged with a crime want to plead guilty right away. They want to own up to their behavior or they want to end an uncomfortable situation as quickly as possible. These nice, honest people are setting themselves up to be abused by a system that takes advantage of naïve people.
A “Not Guilty” plea is not a sworn declaration of innocence. It is a declaration of the defendant being innocent until proven guilty and that the state must prove the charges.
THE DOWNSIDE OF PLEADING GUILTY AT THE ARRAIGNMENT.
The last thing anyone should do is go to an arraignment, listen to the charges and then plead guilty to every charge. Here are the main reasons for not pleading guilty:
MY CASE IS WEAK. CAN MY CHARGES BE DISMISSED BEFORE THE ARRAIGNMENT?
- When you enter a guilty plea to a charge you immediately have a conviction for that charge.
- A judge is unable to drop the charges or change them to something less serious. A judge can’t offer a filing or a deferred disposition that might ultimately result in dismissal.
- A guilty finding can result in consequences you are unaware of including:
- For someone who is not a U.S. citizen, a guilty plea might result in serious immigration consequences.
- Certain criminal convictions carry a lifetime ban on possession of firearms or ammunition
- Some convictions will result in driver’s license suspensions or revocations that are imposed after the fact by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
Defendants who believe the case against them is very weak often ask whether it's possible to negotiate a dismissal before the arraignment. Unfortunately, this possibility generally exists only for defendants who hire private attorneys prior to arraignment. An attorney knows what to say and what not to say to the prosecutor. An attorney who is well known to the courtroom prosecutor may be able to convince that prosecutor of the weaknesses in the case and get the case dismissed.
An Attorney Can Protect Your Rights
The best thing to do for your arraignment is to hire a criminal defense attorney for your case. Criminal law is complex and not something to be tackled by a private citizen. The attorney will most likely advise you to enter a plea of "not guilty." Pleading "not guilty" protects your constitutional right to a fair trial and gives your attorney time to prepare your case and explore opportunities that may minimize penalties.
If you don't have an attorney, plead “not guilty." Receive discovery materials from the prosecutor and hire an attorney as soon as possible.
About the Owner of this Blog: Criminal Defense Attorney Carl Jordan
Carl Jordan is a Michigan criminal defense attorney who is a former Michigan and Wisconsin assistant prosecutor. He will take the time and expend the effort to negotiate the best possible resolution in his client's case, from start to finish. His comprehensive knowledge allows him to aggressively defend you against any criminal charge. His primary goal is to get all charges dismissed when possible. Call Attorney Jordan at 248 358-6647 for a free consultation and he will find a way to help you.