In criminal cases, one of the first steps in the process is an arraignment. This step involves a court hearing during which the judge or magistrate tells you what you’re being charged with.
During an arraignment, the court may also make a decision about whether to grant you bail. If you’re allowed to post bond, you’re released from jail and allowed to go home while you wait for your case to move forward.
While you aren’t required to have a lawyer for an arraignment, many people prefer to have one. Most people are unfamiliar with the criminal justice system, and it’s normal to feel intimidated when you’re accused of a crime. Having a criminal defense lawyer by your side can help ensure your case is handled fairly and in the way most favorable for you.
What Happens During an Arraignment?
An arraignment can take a few different forms. In most cases, the type of arraignment you should expect depends on the severity of the charges you’re facing.
For example, if you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor or a nonviolent felony, you might be permitted to go home prior to your arraignment. Rather than being held in jail, the court will inform you of the date and time you need to show up in court to be arraigned.
These types of arraignments can go very quickly, and they might only last a minute or two. However, it’s still important to take them seriously. You should make sure to arrive at the courthouse early, and it’s a good idea to dress in formal clothing. First impressions can make a big difference, so avoid showing up in ripped or torn clothing or jeans.
If you’ve been charged with a more serious crime, however, you might have to remain in jail between the time of your arrest and your arraignment.
During your arraignment, you will also be given an opportunity to enter a plea. This is where having a criminal defense lawyer can make a big difference in the outcome of your case. Each case is different, but your lawyer will typically advise you to enter a plea of not guilty.
By pleading not guilty in this initial stage of your case, you preserve your right to receive a fair trial. A not guilty plea also gives you the time you need to prepare the best defense for your case.
Should You Accept a Plea Agreement?
In some cases, criminal defense lawyers negotiate a guilty plea with the prosecutor in exchange for reducing the charges against you or obtaining a lighter sentence. In some cases, you can even enter a plea agreement in order to have some portions of the charges dropped or dismissed. This is known as a “plea deal” or “plea agreement.”
If you enter into a plea agreement, you waive your right to have a trial. It’s important to fully understand what you’re agreeing to before you agree to any kind of plea deal with a prosecutor.
There are several pros and cons to entering a plea agreement, which is why this is something you should strongly consider discussing with an experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyer before you do it.
Tips to Keep in Mind for an Arraignment
Your arraignment is the start of your criminal case, and it can set the tone for how the rest of your case will proceed. This is why it’s important to make a good first impression when you appear in court.
Be on Time
One of the main things to remember is to be on time. Courts have very busy schedules, and they handle numerous hearings and cases throughout the day. It’s best to arrive early, so you can be certain you’ll be present when it’s your turn to go before the court.
Arriving early also gives you an opportunity to talk with your lawyer and calm any nerves you might have about the arraignment process. Knowing what to expect ahead of time can help you feel more confident and comfortable about the arraignment hearing.
You should also dress appropriately. If possible, avoid clothing like shorts or jeans. If you can’t afford a business suit, don’t worry. Just dress in your nicest clothing. A clean and neat appearance shows the court that you take your case seriously.
Ask Questions If You Are Unsure About Something
When the judge or magistrate asks you questions, respond politely. Speak as clearly as you can. It’s also important to ask questions if you’re unsure or confused about something. You don’t want to inadvertently give an incorrect or misleading answer, as this might hurt your defense case.
Talk to a Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you or a loved one are facing an arraignment, it’s normal to have a lot of questions. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you understand your rights.