It’s easy for attorneys to take for granted the knowledge they have regarding a criminal arraignment. After all, they may find themselves in court several times a week, so the process is second nature to them. Unless you have been involved in a criminal legal process, the things that go on during a hearing can be shrouded in mystery. Let’s examine the process and review what one can expect during an arraignment.
What is an Arraignment?
An arraignment is simply the first hearing at the start of the criminal process when a person is charged with a crime. It is the hearing in which the Court formerly informs the Defendant with the crimes for which he or she is charged.
The Defendant Must Meet With The Probation Department Before the Arraignment Hearing
Prior to being arraigned (formerly charged) in Court, those who are summonsed or arrested are required to check in with the probation department. This visit is used to collect and confirm your information, such as your address, date of birth, the correct spelling of your name, your place of employment, and information about your net worth. This information is used to run a criminal records check to create a CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) for the judge and district attorney to view. It is also used to determine whether or not you qualify to have counsel appointed to represent you or if you need to retain private counsel. Individuals who do not complete this initial process will not have their case called.
Determining Bail and Conditions of Pretrial Release
Bail is a cash payment made to the Court to hold in order to secure your future appearance in Court. If you fail to appear at a hearing without good cause, the bail can be forfeited and a warrant for your arrest can issue. In addition to bail, the Court can set pretrial conditions of release or determine that you should be held in jail pending trial due you being too dangerous to release. The nature of the charges brought against you and your criminal history (including the nature of your past crimes and if you ever failed to appear previously) will determine whether or not bail or pretrial conditions needs to be set. Individuals who are summoned and appear in court usually will not face an issue with bail but can have pretrial conditions (rules they must abide by during the Court process in order not to be held pending trial).
Conversely, individuals who have been arrested may need a lawyer to argue bai or against onerous pretrial conditions. These conditions can include: no contact with a victim; abide by a restraining order; stay away from a business; no drugs or alcohol; random screens or a GPS bracelet to monitor your location. The bail details can be discussed between your lawyer and the assistant district attorney prior to the arraignment. Prior to being arraigned, defendants are advised to meet with a lawyer to discuss the facts of the case and disclose any prior convictions. This will provide lawyers with enough time to present the judge with a favorable argument for your release on personal recognizance or an affordable bail and to limit any conditions for pretrial release.
Entering a Plea
In Massachusetts, individuals don’t have to worry about entering a not guilty plea. The clerk who calls the arraignments typically performs this task on your behalf when your case gets called.
Continuing Your Arraignment
Once an individual is arraigned, court records will show an open criminal case. This means employers may have access to this information, potentially resulting in a suspension from your job or possible termination. For individuals who may be negatively impacted by having an open criminal case, your lawyer can request a continuance of your arraignment. Matters where the alleged crime is one “that could happen to anybody” can be taken into account by prosecutors and police officers. Make sure to speak with your lawyer about this option prior to arraignment.
Resolve Your Case Prior to Arraignment
There are instances where individuals can resolve their case before arraignment. This will ensure the individual is not associated with an open criminal case. Speak with your lawyer to find out if resolving your case prior to arraignment is an option.
Scheduling the Next Hearing
The next hearing after arraignment can be a probable cause hearing or a pretrial conference. A probably cause hearing occurs in serious cases. It is a preliminary hearing at which time the Court hears evidence to determine if there is sufficient evidence of a crime for the criminal case to proceed. A pretrial conference is a hearing consider the process involved as the case proceeds toward trial or other resolution. The prosecution and defense counsel will discuss discovery (exchange of evidence), possible disposition of the case; scheduling Motions to Suppress (exclude from trial) or Discovery Motions where the two sides cannot agree on what discovery should be exchanged.
Our office is committed to defending the accused and protecting your rights. If you have to appear in court or have been charged with a crime, contact us right away so we can discuss your legal options.