What Happens During a Criminal Arraignment?
Aside from the possibility of going to jail or suffering other consequences of a criminal conviction, one of the most stressful parts of having a criminal case involve not knowing what to expect. If this is your first arrest, or it’s been a while since your last arrest, you are likely unfamiliar with the criminal trial process. One way to ease your mind about what lies ahead is to familiarize yourself with each part of the process. And this starts with the criminal arraignment.
What Is a Criminal Arraignment?
A criminal arraignment is the first formal hearing in a criminal case. During an arraignment, the judge covers a few preliminary but important aspects of the criminal process. An arraignment typically occurs shortly after an arrest, usually within a day or so.
What happens during a criminal arraignment will depend, to some extent, on the specific judge hearing the case. However, the general purpose of an arraignment is for the judge to announce the charges that the government is bringing against you and advise you of your rights. The judge will also ask you whether you want to plead guilty or not guilty.
What Rights Will the Judge Discuss at a Criminal Arraignment?
State and federal law requires anyone facing criminal charges to receive notice of certain constitutional rights. Judges often go over these rights quickly, as they are typically in a hurry and have many other arraignments on their docket. However, the rights a judge discusses at an arraignment include the following.
Your Right to Have an Attorney Represent You
Everyone is entitled to legal representation in a criminal case. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you will let the judge know at arraignment, and they will appoint an attorney to represent you. While you have the right to a criminal law defense lawyer, you do not have the right to a lawyer of your choosing. Thus, if you cannot afford a lawyer, the judge will not allow you to pick which attorney they appoint to your case. You may end up with a public defender or a court-appointed private defense attorney.
Your Right to Present and Cross-Examine Witnesses
During a criminal arraignment, the judge explains that you are innocent until proven guilty and that the government has the burden to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. To do this, the government will call witnesses to testify against you. You have the right, through your lawyer, to question (cross-examine) these witnesses. You also have the right to call your own witnesses to testify on your behalf.
Your Right Against Self-Incrimination
In a criminal case, the government cannot force you to take the stand. This is because doing so would violate your right against self-incrimination. However, after discussing your case with your attorney, you may choose to testify.
Your Right to Be Released on Reasonable Bail
One of the most important aspects of a criminal arraignment is bail. During an arraignment, the judge hears arguments from the government’s attorney regarding the appropriate amount of bail. If you have an attorney present at the arraignment, your attorney can argue for a lower bail amount.
Your Right to a Speedy Trial
The government only has a certain amount of time to bring a case against you. In “simple” cases, the prosecution has six months to prepare and bring a case. However, the government may have up to 18 months to bring “complex” cases to trial. If the prosecution cannot get its case together in time, the court may dismiss the case. However, if you or your attorney requests an extension or a continuance, it will not count towards this period.
Do You Have to Appear at a Criminal Arraignment?
Generally, anyone facing criminal charges needs to appear at their arraignment. However, in certain situations, your lawyer can attend the arraignment on your behalf. Typically, if you face serious felony charges, you will need to attend with your lawyer.
While it may be challenging to arrange your schedule to attend an arraignment, it is important that you do not miss an arraignment unless you first speak to your lawyer and get permission from the court. Failing to appear at arraignment can result in a bench warrant.
How Should You Plead at an Arraignment?
There are several pleas you can enter at a criminal arraignment. However, most people enter a “not guilty” plea. This is especially the case if someone has not yet spoken with a criminal law defense lawyer about their case. If you enter a plea of not guilty, you can always change your mind at a later time.
Another reason why entering a guilty plea at an arraignment is rare is because you will likely know very little about the case at this point. For example, you may not have police reports, witness statements, or other important discovery. These documents help you and your lawyer determine if the prosecution will be able to prove their case. After reviewing the evidence, you may decide that a guilty plea is your best option. If so, your lawyer may be able to negotiate a favorable plea agreement with the prosecution. This may result in the withdrawal of certain charges. It could also result in an agreed-upon sentence that is less than what you would likely get if you took the case to trial and were found guilty.
Contact an Experienced New Mexico Criminal Law Defense Attorney
If you were recently arrested for a New Mexico crime and are wondering what happens at a criminal arraignment, avoid any unnecessary stress and reach out to a criminal law defense attorney as soon as possible. At the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices, our attorneys have decades of experience aggressively advocating on behalf of clients, starting at the criminal arraignment. We understand that unfamiliarity with the process can cause anxiety. So we explain the process in clear, understandable terms. We will also ensure that your rights are respected throughout the trial, always working towards the best possible result. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with a veteran New Mexico criminal law defense lawyer, give the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices a call today. You can also connect with us through our online contact form.