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All About Arraignments


Only a small fraction of arrests lead to a criminal trial, but many more of them get as far as the arraignment.  An arraignment is the first hearing in a criminal case.  It typically occurs about three days after the arrest.  At the arraignment, the court formally notifies the defendant of the charges, and the defendant enters a plea.  How the case proceeds after the arraignment depends on whether the defendant pleads guilty or not guilty to the charges.  The arraignment is also the only opportunity for the defendant’s lawyer to file certain pretrial motions, although other motions do not have such a short deadline.  Here, our Miami criminal defense lawyer explains what you and your lawyer should do before, during, and after your arraignment.

A Brief History of Arraignments

Arraignments might seem superfluous in the information age.  Your phone and watch send you alerts about court decisions and celebrity deaths whether you wanted to find out this news or not.  It seems unthinkable that three days could go by after your arrest with you still not knowing why you were arrested?

The courts in English-speaking countries still conduct arraignments the way they did in the Middle Ages, when only a small percentage of people knew how to read.  The authors of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights held that the state must give people a fair chance to defend themselves against criminal charges, and that this requires the court to formally notify the defendant of the charges.  Today, the court reads the charges out loud at the arraignment and also gives the defendant a written notice of the charges.  You must attend your arraignment in person unless you request and receive the court’s permission not to be present at the arraignment.  You also have the right to have your criminal defense lawyer present during the arraignment.

Getting Your Act Together Quickly Before an Arraignment

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a speedy trial, which necessitates a speedy arraignment.  Most arraignments happen about 72 hours after the arrest, but they can be as much as a few weeks later if there are details to work out about what the charges are.  If you are in jail from the time of your arrest until your arraignment, then 72 hours feels like a very long time.

Whether you are in jail or at home, 72 hours feels like a painfully short time to decide whether to plead guilty or not guilty to criminal charges.  The good news is that, during this brief time, you will have long conversations with your lawyer about the possible consequences of the plea you enter.  If you decide to plead not guilty, which you always have the right to do, you and your lawyer can begin discussing defenses to use before and during your trial.  If you decide to seek a plea deal, your lawyer can begin negotiating with prosecutors even before your arraignment.

The Moment of Truth: Are Guilty and Not Guilty Your Only Choices?

If you plead not guilty at your arraignment, the next step is to prepare for trial.  If you plead guilty, the next step is sentencing, although defendants who plead guilty tend to receive lighter sentences than those convicted at trial.  Guilty and not guilty are not the only options.  You can plead no contest if you are willing to receive a sentence but don’t want a guilty plea on your record.  Defendants often use this plea in cases where they could face civil lawsuits from victims, such as in cases related to assault, drunk driving accidents, or financial crimes.  If you do not enter a plea at all, the court will assume that you meant to plead not guilty, and the trial will go forward as it would have done after a not guilty plea.

Is It Possible to Get Your Case Dismissed After You Have Entered a Plea?

Pretrial motions to dismiss criminal charges typically happen before or during the arraignment.  This is not the only possibility for getting a case dismissed, though.  If you plead not guilty, your lawyer may discover that some of the prosecution’s evidence against you is inadmissible in court.  Your lawyer can file a motion to suppress this evidence, and the prosecution may reach the conclusion that it no longer has a case against you.

Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorneys

A South Florida criminal defense lawyer can help you think clearly about your case if you have a lot on your mind before your arraignment.  Contact Ratzan & Faccidomo in Miami, Florida for a free, confidential consultation about your case.



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