Generally, a court officer will direct you to a microphone or place where the defendant stands. Walk to that spot and remain standing when your case is called. You can expect the following three things to happen at an arraignment, but not necessarily in this order.
- First, the charges will be read out loud and either the clerk will enter a not guilty plea on your behalf or the clerk may ask how you want to plead. You may plead in three different ways:
- You may say that you are "Not guilty", which means that you deny the charges against you or you want a trial.
- You may say that you are "Guilty", which means that you admit that the charges are true.
- You may say "Nolo contendere" (no contest), which means that you are not going to plead guilty, but you are willing to be sentenced as you would be if you were found guilty.
- Second, if you are charged with an offense for which you could receive jail time and you cannot afford a lawyer, the judge will appoint a lawyer. That lawyer, sometimes called the "duty lawyer" for the day, is usually in the courthouse and likely in the court room. Either before or after the arraignment, and you will have an opportunity to talk briefly during a recess or outside the courtroom.
- Third, if the case is not disposed of, a date for a pre-trial conference will be set and you must return on that date. When you return, you should check into the probation office before going into the courtroom.
Bail/dangerous hearing. In some cases, a fourth event may occur during the arraignment. There may be a bail hearing or a dangerousness hearing. If the information before the judge suggests that you may not return to court, a bail hearing will be held. Regardless of your financial status, the "duty lawyer" for the day will speak to you privately about what will occur at the bail hearing and represent you at that hearing if you wish. If bail is set, you will be held until that amount is deposited in the clerk's office. The judge may place other conditions on your pre-trial release. You must follow the conditions in order to stay out of jail. If you do not follow the conditions, then you may be held in jail. You have the right to appeal the amount of bail to a judge in the superior court and the appeal can sometimes be heard the same day.
In a few instances, a dangerousness hearing may be held if the prosecutor informs the judge that you may pose a danger upon release. If the judge agrees, a hearing will be held to determine if you should be held in jail until your next court date.
Part 2: Arraignment or First Appearance in Court
- Can court staff help me?
- What should I wear to court?
- Where should I go when I arrive at the court building?
- What should I do when I enter the arraignment courtroom?
- What conduct is expected in the courtroom?
- Who are the people in the courtroom?
- What will happen at my arraignment?
- What is bail (or bond)?
- When can I first talk to my court appointed lawyer?
- Can I dispose of my case at arraignment?
- What happens when I talk to the prosecutor (during a break in my court appearance) about resolving my case?
- Can my case be continued?
- What could my punishment be?
- What happens if I am charged with a crime but I am not a United States citizen?
- What is the difference between civil infractions, misdemeanors and felonies?
- What happens if my case is not resolved at arraignment?
- What should I do before I leave court?
- Part 3: Pre-Trial, Trial and Verdict