For those who are not familiar with the justice system, an arraignment can sound very scary. This blog post aims to help educate someone on what an arraignment is, what happens at an arraignment, and what arraignments mean for felons. Additional topics will be covered as well to give more insight on the entire process.
What is an Arraignment and How Do They Work?
An arraignment is a court proceeding that takes place after someone is accused of committing a crime. It is the first time the accused is in front of a judge relating to the crime they are accused of committing. For many people, arraignments are quite nerve-racking, and for good reason.
Arraignments give the accused a chance to enter a plea deal and admit to the crime they are being tried for. A plea deal offers the accused a chance to plead guilty for a reduced sentence/punishment. After the accused plead guilty and accept the deal, then they are sent to prison on the charges they agreed to.
A plea deal is, in most cases, always offered to the accused. Plea deals are attractive because they save the state a lot of money by not having to procced with a trial; they also appeal to lawyers because it ensures them a guaranteed conviction which can help their career.
Even though a plea deal is offered at an arraignment does not mean that the accused is required to accept it. If the accused is confident they can win at trial, they may choose to decline the plea deal and take their chances. The advice of their attorney is critical when making this decision because not only does the person’s attorney work with the prosecution to make the plea deal, but the attorney also knows their ability to defend the accused, and if that ability is not very strong, then accepting the plea deal is probably the best course of action.
What Happens at an Arraignment?
The offering of a plea deal is just one event that happens at an arraignment. Arraignments can be thought of as the beginning stages of forming a trial. For instance, arraignments often include setting a sentencing date or a trial date depending on the crime. If the accused does not plead guilty and accept the plea deal, then they will be on trial within sixty-days due to the right to a “fair and speedy trial”.
An arraignment in itself is not an official sentencing hearing, it is a preliminary step in the legal process of finding someone guilty of a crime. Those that are involved in the arraignment hearing are, in most cases, free to leave the court after the hearing (if offered bail). If the accused accept the plea deal, then they will be not allowed to walk free and will be booked in jail before heading to prison to carry out their plea deal.
The arraignment process is the structuring process of the trial; the only actions that can happen against the accused is if they choose to plead guilty and accept the plea deal. Otherwise, they are able to walk free (if they are granted and able to post bail) until they are required to come back to court to receive their trial date.
How Do Plea Deals Work and Why Would Someone Accept One?
A plea deal is where in return for the defendant to plead “no contest” and avoid a trial, they will be granted a lesser sentence.
Plea deals are deals offered by the prosecution in order to avoid a trial. Most plea deals will remove time from someone’s sentence. For example, if someone is accused of DUI/manslaughter and sentenced to three years in prison, a plea deal may only require them serve 20 months of that time. This is just one example of what a plea deal can look like, and in most cases, plea deals are quite generous.
If the individual knows they committed the crime they are accused of, accepting the plea deal that is offered to them is typically the smartest course of action. Individuals that find themselves facing the decision of accepting the plea deal or going to trial should consult their legal counsel. Often times, the defense lawyer has covered similar cases and is able to estimate their chances of winning the trial. It is a good idea to trust your legal counsel; they have most likely covered similar cases and understand the process inside and out.
There are many factors that go into deciding if the defendant should accept the plea deal, most of which concern the collected evidence from the crime scene. If there is “unbeatable evidence” such as DNA, fingerprints, hair samples etc. then taking a plea deal is most likely the best decision since that evidence is very hard, if not impossible to beat during a trial.
Any evidence that is “circumstantial” is able to be argued during trial or dismissed outright altogether. If the only evidence collected falls under this category, then accepting a plea deal may require more consideration.
How Does Bail Work in Arraignment Hearings?
After the hearing, the defendant is able to walk free if they are granted bail and able to post bail. “Posting bail” is where the defendant pays a set amount to the courts for the right to walk free after the hearing. For most felony crimes, this amount is in the thousands. If the defendant cannot afford to post bail, then they will be sent to jail to await their trial date.
The majority of defendants are granted bail and able to walk freely.
There are a number of reasons why someone may be denied bail, these include.
- The severity of the crime the defendant is accused of committing.
- The defendant is likely to commit crimes while on bail.
- The defendant poses a threat to society if released.
- The defendant poses a potential flight risk.
These are just some reasons the accused may be denied bail. It is up to the judge to grant bail and their reasons may vary.
How long is the arraignment process?
The arraignment process takes place very quickly (48 hours) after an individual is arrested and placed in county jail. The arraignment process takes place in two parts, the initial arraignment hearing and the post-indictment hearing.
If the defendant was arrested on a weekend, the time for the arraignment hearing may be a little longer (72 hours).
The first part of the arraignment hearing gives the defendant a chance to assemble a legal team and be notified of the crimes they stand accused of. The second part of the arraignment process is where a plea deal is offered to the defendant. The reason the arraignment process is broken into two parts is simply because of time; there is not enough time for the prosecution to make a plea deal during the first hearing, they must look over evidence and determine what is the best course of action.
What happens if someone leaves the country on bail?
One reason a judge may choose not to offer someone bail is because they pose a flight risk. A flight risk means that they have a high probability of leaving the country to avoid their trial and serving their sentence. If the judge makes the wrong decision and grants bail and the defendant does flee, the U.S. Marshalls, as well as bail bondsman will hunt the person down and bring back to the United States. If the defendant is caught and sent back, they will face many more charges and most likely serve a large amount of new time due to these new charges.
It is not a smart idea to flee the country to avoid prison time. If the defendant is found, they will be in a much worse position than they were initially.
Can charges be dropped during an arraignment hearing?
Yes. If the prosecution fails to provide substantial evidence against the defendant, the judge may rule that the court proceeds are adjoined and the crimes the defendant were accused against be dropped.
It is not common for charges to be dropped, but it has happened. In order for an arraignment hearing to take place there must be a fair amount of evidence to justify why the defendant is in court, if this evidence cannot be presented, then the charges may be dropped or suspended.
Can sentencing occur at an arraignment hearing?
Sentencing is possible at an arraignment hearing, but usually not for the crime the defendant is accused of committing. The judge may sentence the accused to smaller crimes such as disorderly conduct or similar crimes. Be on your best behavior if you are preparing for an arraignment hearing because it is indeed possible to pick up extra punishments at these hearings.
Thank You for reading! We hope this article helped to answer some of your questions about the arraignment process. What are your thoughts on the arraignment process? Let us know below by writing a comment!