The criminal justice system can be confusing, especially for anyone who has never dealt with it before. There are numerous hearings in a single criminal case, and they each serve their own purpose. One of those hearings is the formal arraignment.
Despite the name, this hearing is largely informal. Unlike a trial, where witnesses are sworn in and a jury is seated, the formal arraignment is a routine process without any testimony from witnesses. That does not mean your formal arraignment is unimportant. So what is a formal arraignment, exactly? Let our criminal defense attorneys answer all of your questions.
What Happens at Formal Arraignment?
If, after a preliminary hearing, your criminal case proceeds to formal arraignment, there are two important functions this hearing is designed to serve. However, both of these functions are more of a formality—especially when you are represented by legal counsel.
When the court takes up your formal arraignment, you will be read the criminal information for the first time and then given the chance to enter a plea:
Reading the Information
In this context, the term “information” means the details of the specific charges against you. That does not mean the state will lay out its case or present the evidence it intends to use against you. That will come up later during a process known as discovery.
Instead, this process involves reading the specific language of the offenses you allegedly committed. It will include the potential penalties you will face if convicted. The judge will also inform you of your right to file motions in your own defense and advise you that you are required to appear at each court proceeding if you do not have an attorney.
Entering Your Plea
Another important aspect of the formal arraignment is the entering of the plea. After you hear the information in your case, the judge will ask you if you want to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The choice to enter a plea is entirely your own.
It is never a good idea to plead guilty at a formal arraignment. If you enter a plea without first negotiating a plea agreement with the government, the judge has free reign to sentence you to anything within the penalty range.
When you plead not guilty, you keep your options open moving forward. You will have the chance to speak with an attorney before your trial date and potentially work out an agreement with the prosecution if that is in your best interests.
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What Follows the Formal Arraignment?
Unless your case is dismissed or you negotiate a plea bargain, the formal arraignment is one of the first steps in the process. Since your case has not been resolved at this point, it is time to start preparing for trial.
The trial in your case will not happen right away. In fact, another hearing will be scheduled by the court called a pre-trial conference. At these hearings, you have the opportunity to let the court know how you would like to proceed.
If you and your defense attorney are ready for trial, you can indicate this fact to the court. The judge will then set a trial date. If you have reached a settlement agreement following your formal arraignment, you can enter that plea at your pre-trial hearing.
Finally, it is possible that you and your attorney might not be ready to proceed to trial. It can take time to build a winning defense strategy, especially if the state drags its feet with providing you with its evidence. A judge could agree to reschedule the pre-trial conference and allow you more time to build your defense.
Missing Formal Arraignment Has Consequences
Attendance is mandatory for any hearing in your criminal case, and formal arraignment is no exception. This process might often be a formality, but the failure to appear can have serious consequences. Failing to appear at a hearing after you were ordered to do so can result in a criminal charge. Not only are these charges serious, but defending against them can be difficult.
Thankfully, the Law Offices of M.J. Snyder, LLC can help ensure you never miss a court date. It may even be possible to have your formal arraignment waived, saving you from having to appear in court. The court does not have to grant these waivers, making it vital that you rely on an attorney who understands this process.
You Have the Chance to Speak to an Attorney Before Your Formal Arraignment
If you have never been involved in the criminal justice system before, it is understandable for you to have questions. The formal arraignment can sound especially intimidating if you have never been charged with a crime before. The good news is that you have the option to speak with an attorney during a consultation prior to your formal arraignment.
The Law Offices of M.J. Snyder, LLC offer free consultations to those facing criminal charges. We have extensive experience handling these cases, and our experience could be invaluable to you. Your initial consultation is a good opportunity for you to learn about every stage of the criminal process, from formal arraignment to trial.
During your initial consultation, you will have the chance to learn about the formalities of the criminal justice system. This includes discussing what the formal arraignment stage means to you. There is also an opportunity to discuss your case in general, including what defense options are available for you to choose from.
Talk to an Attorney About Your Formal Arraignment
Your formal arraignment is only the first step in what can be a long process. You have the right to defend yourself against these criminal charges, but you waive that right if you plead guilty during your formal arraignment.
The Law Offices of M.J. Snyder, LLC are ready to help you build the strongest defense possible. Reach out to us as soon as possible to discuss your case during a free consultation.