Why is an Arraignment Important?
If you have been charged with a crime, your arraignment will likely be your first appearance before a judge. If you were arrested, your arraignment must occur within 48 hours of your arrest. The time limit is increased to 72 hours if there was an arrest warrant. If you were not arrested, your arraignment will be scheduled within a few days or weeks, and you will receive a letter informing you of the date and time you should appear.
The arraignment is the start of your court proceedings and will provide you with vital information about your case and a chance to make your plea. While it is not a trial, it is an opportunity for your defense lawyer to gather data, learn more about the prosecution’s case, evaluate your chances for a plea deal, and file necessary motions. An experienced Georgia criminal defense lawyer can explain what you need to know about this initial court appearance and how it impacts your case going forward.
What Can You Expect at Your Arraignment?
The prospect of an arraignment can be nerve-wracking, particularly if you’ve never been in court before. However, it is essential to remember that the purpose of the arraignment is to fulfill the court’s obligation to fully inform you of the charges against you and outline your legal rights. You will also be given the opportunity to make your initial plea. While your arraignment is an important court date you should take seriously, it is only one part of the legal process. The following four things can happen during your arraignment, although it should be noted that some steps may not apply to all cases.
A Listing of the Charges
The court must inform you and your defense attorney of the charges the prosecution has filed against you. Typically, this information will be presented as a written document. You do have the right to request that the judge read the charges aloud, but this is generally unnecessary. An arraignment does not prevent the prosecution from adding more charges later if they come across more information in their investigation.
Information About Your Rights
During your arraignment, the judge will inform you of your constitutional rights. These include the right to a jury trial, the right to protect yourself against self-incrimination, and the right to legal counsel. If you do not have an attorney and cannot afford one, you may be directed to apply for a public defender to represent you in court. You can also choose to hire a private defense attorney to handle your case.
The Chance to Make Your Plea
Once you have been informed of your charges and rights, you will be asked to respond to the charges by entering a plea. You have three options for your plea:
Not guilty: Most defendants will state that they did not commit the crime by pleading “not guilty.” This plea moves the case onward toward a trial. If you say nothing when asked to plead, it will be recorded as a “not guilty” plea.
Guilty: By pleading “guilty,” you admit to committing the crime and will likely be sentenced by the judge immediately.
Nolo contendre (no contest): A nolo plea indicates that you are not contesting the charges and will accept punishment but are not admitting guilt. It is sometimes used for certain Georgia traffic offenses because the defendant can avoid having points put on their license or having their license suspended. The state places many restrictions on when and how you can plead nolo, so discussing this strategy with your lawyer before your arraignment is critical.
The Terms of Your Release
If you were in custody prior to your arraignment, you will learn whether you need to remain in jail until your trial or if you will be released. You may be released on your own recognizance, but in many cases, you will be required to post bail before your release. The judge will consider the severity of your crime and other factors when setting your bail. They may also impose specific conditions for your release, such as the avoidance of drugs and alcohol or no traveling outside the state. You could be taken back into custody if you fail to meet these conditions.
Is an Arraignment Required?
A defendant always has the right to a formal arraignment where they can have their legal rights and the charges against them read aloud. This process is a holdover from times when more individuals were illiterate and would be unable to understand a written copy of this information. Today, if you have already retained a lawyer for your case, it is likely that they will request to have your arraignment waived and submit a written plea of “not guilty” on your behalf. Waiving your arraignment can save you time and resources, but you should consult a lawyer first to ensure you are not required to attend. Some Georgia courts, such as Municipal Court, do not allow you to waive your arraignments.
Should You Have a Lawyer at Your Arraignment?
Retaining a trusted defense lawyer prior to your arraignment is highly recommended. Many crucial motions that can affect the outcome of your case must be filed before or during your arraignment. There is also a ten-day time limit for filing motions following the date of your arraignment, so it is vital that you have legal counsel as soon as possible. A lawyer can determine whether your arraignment can be waived altogether. If you must attend court, they will help you understand the process and make a good first impression on the judge. If you have been charged with a crime in Georgia, contact Sessoms Law Group today at 678-853-7402 for skilled assistance with your defense.