What Happens During a California Arraignment?

person behind bars

Getting arrested is a harrowing experience for most people, especially for those who do not have much experience with the California legal system. You may feel that you are being treated as if you are guilty, even before you step into the courtroom to see the judge. You may feel confused, panicked and fearful about your future and your freedom. 

The first thing you should do after an arrest is contact an experienced San Diego County criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can walk you through the process and help you feel more prepared for what is to come. He or she will also consult with you about your case so you can fully understand the charges against you and the defenses that are available to you based on the facts of your case. 

The first appearance in the process is called the arraignment. In this article, we will help you understand what happens during an arraignment and how your attorney can help you move through this stage of the legal process. 

When does your arraignment occur? 

The initial arraignment will happen relatively soon after your arrest. Certain felony offenses that require you to stay in jail must schedule an arraignment within 48 hours. This timeline does not include weekends or holidays. While some misdemeanor offenses require a defendant to remain in custody, most will not and the arraignment will typically be held after 10 days. 

Other felony offenses that do not demand that you remain in custody are legally required to be done quickly. However, it is not uncommon for an arraignment to be scheduled for several weeks or even months after an arrest. 

What will happen during your arraignment? 

The arraignment is not like a trial, where evidence is presented and witnesses testify. Instead, the goal of the arraignment is to make determinations about a few key items. Specifically, the defendant will enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, no contest). The court will make sure that the defendant understands the charge against them. Their rights will be explained, including: 

  • The right to an attorney 
  • The right against self-incrimination 
  • The right to a jury trial 
  • The right to a speedy trial 
  • The right to call witnesses 

If you have already secured an attorney, your lawyer may be able to appear on your behalf at your arraignment. However, for most felony charges, defendants are required to appear in court. For lesser charges, including most misdemeanors, the defendant may not be required to appear for the arraignment. Work with your criminal defense attorney who will help you understand if you are required to attend your arraignment. Your attorney can also prepare you for the arraignment, including how to plea, explaining the intricacies of your charges and the bail process if applicable.

If you are required to appear at your arraignment and you choose not to attend, you could face serious consequences that could impact the outcome of your case. A judge may issue a bench warrant. A bench warrant is a warrant from a judge that gives officers the authority to arrest you and bring you to court.

Entering a Plea

A primary goal of the arraignment is for defendants to enter their plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest. Your attorney can help you determine the best plea based on the facts of your case.

Guilty plea: a defendant who pleads guilty will move to a sentencing hearing where they will determine the appropriate penalties for the crime committed. 

Not guilty: a defendant who pleads not guilty will proceed to a preliminary hearing where they will determine if there is enough evidence to proceed with the case. 

No contest: a defendant who pleads no contest has a similar result as a guilty plea. However, no contest can be a strategic choice if there is a pending or possible civil trial.

What should you do after a San Diego arrest?

If you or someone you love has been arrested in San Diego County, the first thing you should do is avoid speaking to law enforcement without an attorney present. Hiring an attorney right away can help you avoid incriminating yourself and provide you with the peace of mind you need to navigate this challenging process.

San Diego criminal defense attorney Joni Eisenstein has been practicing criminal law since 2003 in the San Diego courts. She is one of the most skilled, experienced and tenacious defense attorneys in the area who tirelessly fights for the rights of her clients. If you have been arrested and have questions about the arraignment process, contact the Law Office of Joni Eisenstein today to schedule your free consultation.