Arraignments, Understanding Their Role In Criminal Cases
An arraignment occurs when the government declares the offenses or crimes you are accused of.
An arraignment is a rather straightforward process. The judge first reads out your criminal charges and then asks whether you plead guilty or not guilty. Either way, the defense attorney will typically enter a not guilty plea for you.
Arraignments for misdemeanor charges take place on the first court appearance. On the other hand, arraignments for actual felonies (in New Jersey) occur after the indictment. Here are some other critical distinctions between felony and misdemeanor offenses in NJ.
What Is The Purpose of An Arraignment?
– Having the opportunity to inform a judge if you can hire a private lawyer. The judge will inform you of your right to have a court-appointed attorney (public defender) as part of your Constitutional rights.
– The judge will remind you that you can choose to participate in a fair trial. You cannot be convicted of any crime or felony unless you are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that being held responsible for a crime does not necessarily mean it will prove true. That is why every individual can abide by their right to appear in court, as stated in the United States Constitution.
– If you wish to hire your own private attorney or are not eligible for pro bono legal advice, the judge should give you a good time frame to find one.
The arraignment functions as a Constitutional security measure devised to safeguard your rights because a determination of being innocent or guilty is not expected to be determined during the arraignment. The objective of the arraignment is to educate you on any charges pressed against you as well as informing your Constitutional rights.
What Are the Parts of An Arraignment?
Many other defendants will be present in the courtroom on the same date as your arraignment, all facing similar circumstances as you. Keep in mind this is just the first day of a long process, so emotions such as anxiety and uneasiness are quite normal. An attorney will probably accompany you on your arraignment date. But if you don’t have a legal advisor yet, the judge will present you with options for hiring a criminal defense lawyer.
You have to present yourself in front of the judge, with your attorney, when you are called to step forward. The judge will order that both you and your attorney’s presence is stated on the record.
The judge will proceed to read the criminal charges presented against you. However, attorneys can decide to waive the reading of the charges when the judge offers the option, which will most likely be the case because your attorney has already discussed the charges with you before your arraignment date.
The judge will proceed to ask for your plea to the stated charges. You have two options:
– Plead guilty: admitting what you did under oath, thus accepting a criminal conviction that stays on your records for several years before it can be deleted, if at all. This means it will appear every time a background check on you is run.
– Plead not guilty: the judge will enter a scheduling order for your next court appearance. The prosecutor will take the time to provide your lawyer with any proof collected against you. Your defense attorney will be in charge of reviewing all the evidence and discussing any opportunities or limitations of your case.
Is It Advisable to Waive the Arraignment?
Hiring a criminal lawyer soon after your arrest is most advisable, as your defense attorney can discuss the criminal charges against you before your arraignment day as well as initiate the plea bargain process. If you hire an attorney right after getting arrested, the attorney can ask the judge to waive the first court appearance scheduled for you. Nevertheless, for more serious crimes such as aggravated sexual assault or murder, the judge will require the defendant’s presence. Attorneys can also visit the “crime scene,” speak to witnesses, consult with experts, and employ their own investigators to ensure evidence is also collected in your favor. The fact that many criminal cases are dismissed or settled before proceeding to trial in court is a great advantage.
One of the most common mistakes defendants make is waiting on hiring a lawyer and risking the chance of losing evidence. For example, if someone gets charged with aggravated assault taking place in the middle of a bar fight, your lawyer must gain access to the bar’s video surveillance tapes before they get destroyed. The recording could show evidence of the accused party acting in self-defense, hence having the criminal charges dismissed by the prosecutor.
Bail After Public Safety Assessment
When a person faces criminal charges related to a violent felony, waiting for the arraignment day will happen while in jail, as they are often considered a danger to the community or a “flight risk.” New Jersey bail laws have changed, and now when someone is in jail because of facing severe criminal charges, they must go through a PSA (Public Safety Assessment). The assessment has a risk classification: 1. Failure to Appear for Future Court Dates; 2. Risk for New Criminal Activity.
The PSA process looks into the following:
– Current criminal charge allegations: severity or any alleged charges (misdemeanor or felony)
– Criminal background check: any criminal convictions or if the record is clean.
– Actual danger risk for the community: risk of anyone being injured by the defendant after being released.
The sum of criminal charges, criminal records, and PSA score based on a total of nine evaluation factors will determine if the judge denies your release from jail. Appealing the judge’s decision is always an option. Although if the appeal is denied, jail time would need to be complied with until the criminal case is resolved by plea bargain or a trial.
Are There Any Advantages to An Arraignment?
Waiving an arraignment might not be the best decision, as you would be losing your opportunity to demonstrate to the judge that you intend to dispute the charges you are facing. Remember that you are innocent until proven otherwise.
During the arraignment, you should focus on appearing respectful next to your attorney, showing the judge through your body language that you are calm, and trust the judicial system in absolving you from any criminal charges.
Arraignments should be a very uncomplicated court process that should not cause you any fear. It is of utmost importance to contact a criminal lawyer immediately after the arrest occurs and a court date comes up. Having sufficient evidence on your side will help to challenge any of the criminal charges you are facing.
Contact our Criminal Lawyers for a Free Consultation Today
If you or a loved one has been arrested and are facing criminal charges, you are entitled to seek the professional advice of a criminal defense lawyer to help you understand plea bargains, probation, and the arraignment proceedings.
At The Montanari Law Group, we are equipped to assist clients in Wayne, Paterson, Clifton, West Milford, Woodland Park, Little Falls, and Passaic County. Whether you have yet to decide your next steps or are ready to move forward immediately, our knowledgeable team of attorneys can be of assistance.