The Arraignment Process: All You Need To Know

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Arraignment

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Many defendants are confused about what an arraignment is and what happens during the  process. An arraignment is not the same thing as a trial. The only people present at an arraignment are the judge, the prosecutor, the defendant and defense attorney. It is the precursor to a trial.

What is an arraignment and can you go to jail at an arraignment?

An arraignment has two specific goals. The first is to determine whether the accused is worthy  of having bail set. If they are not considered a threat to the community, then the judge will set the bail amount. The judge hears what the defendant has been charged with and decides whether it is in the best interest of the community to allow the defendant to post an amount of money that is meant to guarantee that they don’t skip town before the trial.

If the judge doesn’t set bail or if the bail is set so high that the defendant can’t make it, then the defendant is remanded back to prison to await trial. A defendant who is not granted bail remains in jail either until the case is over or they can make bail, or the judge allows a bond reduction or modification.

If the judge does decide to set bail, then the defendant has the right to post bail in the form of cash. The other alternative that some defendants have is to borrow money from a licensed bondsman. A bondsman is someone who lends you money to make bail, but you will owe a portion of the cash that the bondsman posts. They will charge something called a bond premium, which is typically 10% of the total bond that they borrow to post.

The arraignment is also when the defendant is told the exact charges that they are being accused of. It is a chance for the defendant and their attorney to get clarification of what the charges are.

The steps to an arraignment:

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Step one

The case is called by the bailiff. His job is to organize the cases on the calendar and then to announce which case is next according to the schedule or “docket number.” When your case is called, the case will have a specific name to let you know that you are next.

Step two

After your case is called, you will be escorted into the courtroom and stand in front of the judge next to your defense attorney. In larger courts, the defendant will stand in front of a camera or a monitor while inside the jail cell. The hearing then takes place via a closed-circuit television system. All parties including the judge, the defense attorney, other people in the courtroom, and the prosecutor watch the defendant on the monitor.

Step three

The judge will ask specific questions to either the defense attorney or the prosecutor. He might ask questions about whether you intend to waive your rights to a trial, which means that you don’t have a trial by jury but instead allow the charges to be decided upon solely by a judge. Although not many people ever waive their right to trial, it is a formality that is still in practice.

Step four

At that point, the judge will take some time to read through the notes and review the case file. He will then ask for more specifics from the prosecutor to clarify things. This is just a review of the case and there may be some back and forth between the prosecution and the defense, but it has very little bearing on your case in particular.

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Step five

The judge will then ask if the prosecutor thinks that bail should be set. The prosecutor can also make a suggestion about the amount of bail, and if they believe that the defendant is a flight risk they may ask that they not be granted bail. It is then the defense lawyer’s turn to retort and try to fight for bail or to lower the amount.

Step six

After that the judge will either grant bail or not, and if it’s granted, they will set an amount. If the defendant is granted bail and can make the amount, they are escorted to a waiting area. If the judge decides to release the defendant on something called an ROR or “release on recognizance,” meaning that they needn’t post bail and are free to leave. If the defendant isn’t capable of making bail, they return to jail to await trial.

The arraignment process is only to do two things: decide whether bail should be allowed and to set the amount of bond that must be posted for the accused to get out of jail while awaiting trial. It has nothing to do with deciding someone’s guilt or innocence.

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Student @ Advanced Digital Sciences Center, Singapore. Travelled to 30+ countries, passion for basketball.