Though the facts are different in every case, the path that every criminal case in California travels is designed to be the same. If you are suspected of committing a crime, you will first be arrested. If the prosecutor does not file charges, you will be released, and the process ends. If he or she does decide that the evidence is strong enough against you, the prosecutor will file charges. Then, your case will proceed to a hearing that is known as an “arraignment.”
The Arraignment Process
The Sixth Amendment gives every person charged with a crime the right to be informed of the nature and cause of the charges. The arraignment is your first appearance in court. At the arraignment, the judge will explain the charges against you, and inform you of your constitutional rights.
At this point, you will be given the opportunity to enter your plea, which can be guilty, not guilty, or no contest (also known as “nolo contendere”).
Pleading “guilty” means that you admit to the court that you committed the crime for which you are charged. This means there will be no trial, and the court will enter a conviction against you. Your case will then proceed to sentencing, where the judge will determine your punishment for breaking the law.
If you plead “not guilty,” you are telling the court that you did not commit the crime, and you are also telling the prosecution that you do not believe that they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt the allegations are true.
If you plead “no contest,” you are basically telling the court that the prosecution’s evidence is strong enough to convict you, so you will accept the punishment without admitting that you are guilty. A no contest plea cannot be used against you in any other legal matter if your conviction was for a misdemeanor crime.
After you enter your plea, the judge will decide whether to let you go home or send you back into custody. The judge can decide to let you go on your “own recognizance,” which means the judge will trust you to appear in court on a specific date and stay out of trouble until that date. He or she could also decide to set bail, which means you can only go home if you pay the bail amount. If you are accused of a severe crime (usually, a violent crime such as murder) or if the prosecution convinces the judge that you are likely to flee instead of returning to court, the judge might decide that no bail will be allowed, meaning that you will be placed in custody until your trial date.
Why an Experienced Attorney Matters at Your Arraignment
Having an experienced attorney at your side for the arraignment is crucial to the future of your case. First, your lawyer can help you make the best decision when it comes to entering your plea. Whether to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest is not always an easy decision. You may believe you have done nothing wrong, but the prosecutor may have strong evidence against you. He or she may offer a deal (known as a “plea bargain”) under which you agree to plead guilty in exchange for a lesser charge or a more lenient sentence.
On the other hand, you may have done what you are accused of, but the prosecution’s evidence is either inadmissible because of police mistakes or it is just not strong enough to convince a jury you committed the crime. In that case, you will want an experienced attorney to help you evaluate your case and help you weigh your options.
In addition to helping you choose the best plea to enter, a knowledgeable attorney can put forward the best arguments to convince the court you can be trusted to be released from custody while your case is pending. If you are required to pay bail, your lawyer may be able to help you obtain a lower bail bond fee from a reputable bail bondsman.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Before Your Arraignment
The arraignment is often the first step in a criminal case, and it is an extremely important one. The sooner you seek the help of an experienced attorney, the better your chances are to obtain a favorable outcome in your case. That is why you should hire a skilled criminal defense attorney prior to your first court hearing.
At Wallin & Klarich, we have more than 35 years of experience successfully defending our clients facing criminal charges. With offices in Orange County, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Victorville, West Covina, San Diego and Torrance, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich attorney available near you no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.