We hear about arraignments in the context of celebrity arrests all the time. Maybe we have some vague idea of what it is from law school criminal procedure class. But as many attorneys venture outside their usual practice areas in search of work, it’s a good time to bone up on arraignments.
An arraignment is a court hearing at which an individual accused of a public offense—an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony—is informed of the nature of the charge or charges, given a copy of the accusatory pleading, and given an opportunity to enter a plea. Pen C §988; In re Mitchell (1961) 56 C2d 667, 16 CR 281.
An arraignment is the defendant’s first court appearance. See Pen C §§740, 806, 1462.2. That explains Lindsey Lohan’s pre-arraignment primping.
At the arraignment, the judge generally informs the defendant of his or her basic rights and the procedures. For example, the judge will
- Read the complaint to defendant in open court (Pen C §988);
- Ask about the defendant’s financial ability to retain a lawyer and appoint one if necessary (Pen C §987);
- Explain the various pleas that defendant could enter; and
- Inform the defendant of the time limitation on setting the case for trial.
With so much going on at the arraignment, defense counsel should always go into it with a game plan. The following checklist of potential actions to take at an arraignment should help:
___ Move for defendant’s release from custody, bail, or “own recognizance” release;
___ File waiver of defendant’s appearance;
___ Demand probable cause determination (Pen C §991 motion);
___ Serve on prosecutor and file informal discovery request;
___ File demurrer (before plea);
___ Request continuance before entering plea;
___ Enter plea of not guilty, guilty, or nolo contendere.
For everything you need to know about arraignments, go to the gold standard — CEB’s California Criminal Law Procedure and Practice, chap 6. For more information on arraignments in misdemeanor cases, check out CEB’s action guide Defending Your Client in a Misdemeanor Case (Including a DUI).
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