After being arrested for committing a crime in California, you will have an arraignment hearing. This is your first court appearance with a judge and prosecutor in attendance. At your hearing, you will hear the charges filed against you.
You will also enter a plea at this hearing. Although uncommon, it’s possible that your charges can be changed after your arraignment. Learn more about arraignment and when your charges may be changed.
What Is an Arraignment Hearing?
Your arraignment hearing will be scheduled after either a District Attorney’s office or City Attorney’s Office files formal charges against you.
An arraignment hearing is your first formal court appearance in a criminal case. You will have an arraignment hearing whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. This hearing allows a judge to:
- Ensure you understand your constitutional rights
- Relay exactly what charges have been filed against you
- Accept your plea
- Set your bail
A Defendant’s Constitutional Rights
A defendant is granted constitutional rights by both state and federal governments. These rights can be applied during your arraignment and throughout the criminal case proceedings. These rights include:
- The right to legal counsel
- The right not to incriminate yourself
- The right to a speedy trial
- The right to a trial by jury
- The right to confront adverse witnesses
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How Should You Prepare for an Arraignment Hearing?
If you have been arrested for committing a crime, consult with a lawyer before your arraignment. A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer in California will be able to help you understand your charges and gather evidence related to your case.
Your attorney can help you collect evidence, such as:
- Your arrest report
- The police officer’s notes related to your arrest
- Eye witness statements
- Any documents the district attorney may reference
- Physical evidence like weapons or tools used in the crime
If there is insufficient evidence, your defense attorney can file a motion to dismiss the charge against you.
Can Criminal Charges Be Dropped at an Arraignment Hearing?
It is not common practice for the charges to be dismissed at an arraignment hearing. In general, a judge does not have the power to dismiss criminal charges at an arraignment.
A prosecutor may dismiss charges at an arraignment. However, the prosecutor must have a valid reason, such as the discovery that a defendant was wrongly charged. Charges may be dismissed if the prosecutor and defense attorney agree on an early plea bargain at the arraignment.
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Can Your Charges Be Modified Once the Arraignment Is Over?
After your arraignment, your charges can still be changed. For the most part, a prosecutor may alter or add to your charges at any time until the trial starts. In rare instances, a prosecutor may even make changes to your charges after the trial has started. This is only likely to happen if further evidence is discovered.
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What Plea Can a Defendant Enter During an Arraignment?
So long as your charges have not been dismissed at your arraignment hearing, you will enter your plea at this time. You will either enter a plea of:
- Guilty: You waive the right to a trial and proceed to sentencing.
- No contest: This is similar to a guilty plea but cannot be used as evidence in a civil case.
- Not guilty: Your case then proceeds to the pre-trial stage.
Your lawyer will offer legal guidance as to what plea is right for your case.
Do You Have to Appear at an Arraignment Hearing?
Depending on the charges, you may not have to appear at your arraignment. If you were arrested for a misdemeanor, your lawyer may be able to appear on your behalf. Certain charges will still require you to appear at your arraignment in California, such as domestic violence.
If you were arrested for committing a felony, you will have to attend your arraignment hearing. There are exceptions to this, such as if a judge accepts your written waiver. If your arraignment is held via video conferencing, then you do not have to show up in person.
What Happens if You Fail to Appear?
If you are required to appear at an arraignment hearing and you fail to appear, be prepared to be arrested. The court will issue a bench warrant authorizing police to arrest you and bring you to court. Failing to appear will mean adding another misdemeanor or felony charge on top of the one you are currently facing.
What Should You Bring to Your Arraignment?
When you go to your arraignment hearing, bring your photo ID to verify your identity and confirm your attendance. Be sure to bring any notice to appear you received in relation to your hearing. If you have additional evidence that may help your case, bring this as well.
Your lawyer can attend this hearing with you. In addition to reading you the charges against you, a prosecutor may also take the opportunity to offer you a plea bargain. You want your lawyer there to field any plea deals you may receive.
What Happens After an Arraignment Hearing?
Assuming the charges against you are not dismissed at the arraignment hearing, your case will move to pre-trial. This stage will include:
- Additional court appearances
- Lawyers will file motions with the court
- Change of plea
- Plea bargain
If you plead not guilty, your case will move forward with a trial. Your California criminal defense attorney will review your case and the evidence against you to determine your chances of acquittal.