Do You Need A Lawyer At An Arraignment In California?

Being arrested can leave you feeling like you have nowhere to turn. The surroundings may be unfamiliar and you may find the legal process confusing. But, it may provide some solace to know that criminal matters in California generally follow a common set of procedures. One of these is the arraignment, which is an opportunity for you to hear and respond to the charges brought against you.

Following an arrest, the first step of any criminal case is the filing of charges by the prosecution and the arraignment hearing. Next, there is a process called discovery and then preliminary hearings, followed by the trial and court verdict. If a defendant is found guilty, he or she has the option to appeal that decision to a higher court (known as an appeals court).

During an arraignment, you have the right to have an attorney present. This means that you can waive that right and choose not to be represented. However, this isn’t recommended. Because this is your first time in front of the court and you will be responding to charges, an attorney can be very helpful in navigating this process on your behalf.

The Arraignment

An arraignment is the defendant’s first court appearance in a criminal case. If the defendant is taken into custody and housed in a jail, the arraignment must be scheduled within 48 hours following the arrest (not including holidays and weekends). If the defendant is not held in jail, the arraignment is not scheduled for 10 days or more. During this period, the defendant has the opportunity to seek legal counsel.

During the arraignment, the defendant is notified of the pending criminal charges. The defendant is also made aware of his or her constitutional rights and informed that an attorney will be appointed if the defendant cannot afford one. The defendant then responds to the charges before the court and enters what is referred to as a plea.

Plea Options

A plea in a criminal matter is very important and dictates how the case proceeds. There are three types of pleas each with very different ramifications: not guilty, guilty, and no contest.

With a not guilty plea, the defendant claims to have not committed the crime in question. In this case, it is up to the prosecution to prove its case that the defendant did commit the crime. Because a defendant is presumed innocent in a criminal case, the standard of proof is high. In fact, the prosecution must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. This means that, based on the evidence, there is no other logical conclusion than the defendant committed the crime. 

By contrast, a guilty plea means that the defendant admits to committing the alleged crime. In this case, there is no trial by the prosecution and the judge enters a conviction. The matter then proceeds to sentencing.

A plea of no contest is a bit more complicated. Here, the defendant does not dispute the charge but does not admit guilt either. While this plea has the same effect as a guilty plea in a criminal case, the defendant’s guilt cannot be used as evidence of wrongdoing in any subsequent civil suit. 

Because of the importance of selecting the appropriate plea during the arraignment, an attorney can be very helpful in determining which plea is the most advantageous given your unique circumstances.    

If the Defendant is in Custody

There are a few things to consider when a defendant is held in jail at the time of arraignment. After the plea is made the court has a few options to consider. One option is to release the defendant without bail, also known as of his or her “own recognizance.” This determination is made based on the defendant’s promise to show up for the next court date.

The court may also choose to send the defendant back to jail until bail can be posted. The amount of the bail is set by the court and is up to the discretion of the judge given the circumstances of the case.

Finally, the court has the option to refuse to set bail. In this situation, the defendant remains in custody until the next court date. Some reasons the court may not release a defendant out on bail is if there is a possibility that the defendant may not return to court, or if there is a danger that witnesses may be interfered with or other crimes may be committed while on release.

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