Understanding the Arraignment Process

Have you been arrested and are criminal charges in San Diego? If so, it is important to understand how the early phase of the criminal proceedings against you will unfold. The Arraignment hearing is the first official legal proceeding in a criminal case. Here is a brief overview of the Arraignment process in San Diego.

What is the Purpose of an Arraignment?

The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees you the right to be informed about the “nature and cause” of your arrest and the criminal charges you face. An arraignment is basically how this Sixth Amendment right is provided. Once you have been arraigned you should understand:

  • Which criminal charges you face;
  • Why criminal charges have been filed against you;
  • The amount of bail that is required to get you out of jail;
  • Your Constitutional rights.

What Happens at an Arraignment Hearing?

Reading of Charges and Rights

During your arraignment, a judge will read and explain the criminal charges that have been formally filed against you with the state of California. During this time, the judge will also advise you of your Constitutional rights and ask if you understand them. Anything you say during this hearing will be recorded by a court reporter and become part of the official record. It is important to only speak when you are directly asked a question by the judge.

Entering a Plea

The arraignment is your first opportunity to officially respond to the criminal charges. During this hearing, you will be asked to enter a plea for each specific crime that you have been charged with. Pleas that you may enter include not guilty, guilty, and no contest. The plea(s) you enter into the official record will determine how your case continues.

Not Guilty. Entering a plea of not guilty means that you do not admit to any wrongdoing and will assert a defense against the charges that have been filed. If you enter a not guilty plea the court will schedule the next appropriate hearing for your case and set deadlines for certain legal procedures.

Guilty. Entering a plea of guilty means that you acknowledge the truth of the charges against you and accept any penalties that the court chooses to impose. If you enter a guilty plea the court will likely schedule a sentencing hearing to determine a proper punishment. If you face (or could face) a civil lawsuit for your conduct, a guilty plea can be used against you as evidence.

No Contest. Entering a plea of no contest is very similar to entering a guilty plea. Like a guilty plea, you admit to wrongdoing and agree to accept the criminal penalties for your crime. Unlike a guilty plea, a plea of no contest cannot be used as evidence against you in a civil trial.

There are other potential ways to respond to your criminal charges, depending on the specific crime(s) you have been accused of committing. If, for example, you are charged with a non-violent drug crime you may be able to request a Deferred Entry of Judgment. This allows you to enter rehab and complete a drug treatment program under court supervision. Once you have successfully completed this program the court will dismiss the charges against you. Pleading options like this are available on a case-by-case basis.

Setting Bail

In most cases, a judge will review the charges against you and determine if you should be released from jail or held for the duration of any criminal proceedings. If the judge decides that you can be released they can either set bail or allow you to leave on your own recognizance. Hiring an attorney to defend you will increase your chances of securing your release or a reasonable bail amount.

If bail is established, the amount specified by the court will have to be paid before you can be released. The bail is paid as a promise that you will return to court for future legal proceedings in your case. If you are released on your own recognizance you are expected to return to court willingly. Failure to show up for future court dates can lead to additional legal troubles.

When Will I Be Arraigned?

Arraignments are intended to be informative and helpful in setting the stage for future legal proceedings in your case. As a result, there are laws that require the state to hold an arraignment hearing with a certain period of time after your arrest. Police and prosecutors are prohibited from delaying your arraignment unnecessarily. A violation of this right can result in a dismissal of charges. The specific timeframes that apply to your case will depend on whether you are detained or released from custody after your arrest.

Detained in Custody: If you are detained in custody after your arrest, you must be arraigned within 48 hours of your arrest. Weekends and holidays may cause this time to be extended without penalty.

Released from Custody: If you are released from police custody after your arrest, your arraignment will not be held for at least 10 days.

Do I Have to Be Present at My Arraignment?

The answer to this question depends on whether you are arrested on misdemeanor or felony charges.

Misdemeanor: For most misdemeanor arrested you are not required to appear at your arraignment. Instead, you can have a criminal defense attorney appear on your behalf. There are limited exceptions to this rule. It is important to contact an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney to understand the steps you must take in your case.

Felony: If you are arrested for a felony you are required to appear at your arraignment. In some cases, you can submit a petition to the court and request an appearance waiver. The court can accept this petition or reject it. If your petition is rejected, you will be required to show up at your hearing. If the court accepts it, it retains the right to revoke it at any time and demand that you attend.

If you or someone you know has been arrested for a crime in San Diego do not hesitate to contact a criminal defense attorney. The arraignment hearing is incredibly important because it sets the stage in your criminal case. The arguments and decisions that are made at your arraignment can make or break your future defense. Having an attorney present at this crucial moment will increase your chances of securing a positive outcome.


Arraignment, Criminal Law