It isn’t difficult to be accused of a crime in California. More than 1.1 million arrests were made in this state in 2019. If you are placed under arrest in Orange County or anywhere else in southern California, your first priority is contacting an Orange County arraignment attorney.

After someone is arrested, that person’s first hearing before a judge is called the “arraignment.” What takes place at arraignments? What matters are determined? At an arraignment, should a defendant be accompanied by a defense lawyer?

If you’ll continue reading, you’ll find out the answers, and you’ll learn more about a criminal defendant’s rights in the California criminal justice system.

What Happens at Arraignments?

At an arraignment, the defendant usually enters a plea, bail is determined, and the next court date is set. If you are arrested on a charge that requires you to remain in custody, you must be arraigned within forty-eight hours (not including holidays or weekends).

The forty-eight-hour regulation in California applies to all charges that require a defendant to remain in custody, but most misdemeanor defendants are automatically released following most misdemeanor arrests, and those defendants are usually arraigned at least ten days later.

At the arraignment, the defendant is asked to enter a plea: not guilty, guilty, or no contest. The defendant also learns exactly what the charge or charges are and what his or her rights are, including the right to:

  1. be defended by an Orange County criminal defense lawyer
  2. avoid self-incrimination
  3. a speedy trial by jury
  4. confront and call witnesses

In California, if you are charged with an infraction, not all of these rights will apply, because infractions are not considered “criminal” charges. If you are accused of an infraction, for instance, you will not have the right to a trial by jury or a court-appointed defense attorney.

What Are Arraignments Concerned With?

Arraignments are not evidentiary hearings or trials. Evidence is not introduced, no witnesses take the stand, and a defendant’s innocence or guilt is not considered. Arraignments focus strictly on these three matters:

1. ensuring that a defendant understands the charge or charges and his or her rights
2. asking the defendant to enter a plea
3. deciding whether bail will be set, modified, or reinstated, and if it is, for how much

Criminal defendants have the right to be accompanied by a California criminal defense lawyer at an arraignment. Don’t attempt to be your own defense attorney, because the stakes are your future and your freedom.

The right southern California arraignment attorney can discuss your rights, explain how the law applies to your own case, and craft a defense strategy that will be aggressive and effective.

Can Your Lawyer Appear in Court on Your Behalf?

Whether your attorney can appear at your arraignment on your behalf will depend on the charge or charges against you. If you’re charged with a felony, you will probably be required to appear personally for your arraignment.

If the charge is a misdemeanor, a defendant is usually allowed to have a lawyer appear at an arraignment on the defendant’s behalf. However, there are a number of exceptions in both misdemeanor and felony arraignments.

Your defense attorney will explain which rules and exceptions apply in your own case. If you are charged with one of the following misdemeanors, you will probably be required to appear personally at your arraignment:

1. a charge of domestic violence or violating a protective order

2. an aggravated DUI offense including DUI causing injury and vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated

What Happens If You Don’t Appear at an Arraignment?

If you fail to appear at your arraignment, the judge will usually issue a bench warrant that authorizes the police to place you under arrest and transport you directly to the court.

Failure to appear at a felony arraignment may result in another felony charge. Failure to appear for a misdemeanor arraignment is itself a misdemeanor.

About Entering a Plea

Whether you enter a plea at your arraignment or ask for a continuation will depend on the details of your case and circumstances. Always consult with an Orange County arraignment attorney before you enter a plea. A criminal defendant has three plea options:

1. Not guilty: If you plead not guilty, your case moves to the preliminary or pretrial hearing phase.

2. Guilty: If you plead guilty, you are convicted, and your case moves to the sentencing phase.

3. No contest: If you plead no contest (or nolo contendere), you are convicted, but a “no contest” plea cannot be used against you if you are sued in a civil court by a victim of the crime.

In most cases, a defense attorney will advise a criminal defendant to plead not guilty at an arraignment hearing, although there are exceptions to this rule of thumb. Every case is different, and every defendant should consult extensively with his or her attorney prior to an arraignment.

What is a Deferred Entry of Judgment?

For some defendants, California offers an alternative. Your defense lawyer could seek a “deferred entry of judgment.” If that request is granted, and if you abide by certain terms and conditions for a length of time set by the court, the charge or charges against you are dismissed.

Deferred entry of judgment is sometimes offered in certain drug cases, certain child abuse or child neglect cases, and certain “bad check” forgery cases.

What About Bail?

From the defendant’s viewpoint, in nearly every case, the most important part of the arraignment is whether or not bail is set, and if it is, for what amount. Whenever a judge considers bail, whether at the arraignment or at a later bail hearing, the judge takes into account:

1. any danger a defendant may pose to the public or to specific persons
2. a defendant’s risk of flight and ties to the community

After weighing these factors, when bail is first considered, the judge will set a bail amount or release a defendant “O.R.” – on the defendant’s “own recognizance.”

If you’re waiting for an arraignment, do not talk to the police – or to anyone but your lawyer – about the case. Don’t sign any documents, answer questions, or enter a plea until you’ve met with your defense attorney – and be sure to have that meeting before you are arraigned.