The felony arraignment is the first time a person accused will attend a formal court hearing for a felony offense. Generally, these hearings will take place and will allow the court to:
- Tell the defendant their alleged crimes that have been brought against them
- Provide the defendant the information regarding their constitutional rights
- Tell the defendant about their possible bail conditions and release from custody
- Ask the defendant if they are guilty, not guilty or no contest
The constitutional rights for a defendant will include:
- Their right to an attorney (criminal defense lawyer)
- The right to a speedy trial
- The right to a fair trial by a jury of their peers
Generally, state laws agree that this arraignment must occur without delay and the defendant must attend.
What Happens At A Felony Arraignment?
The events listed above are what you can expect when attending the felony arraignment. The people you should expect to be in attendance are the Judge, the defendant, the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney. These hearings will also occur for a misdemeanor charge and most felony arraignments take place within a district court.
When Would A Felony Arraignment Take Place?
As most states agree that these arraignments should take place as soon as possible without any reasonable delay, the hearing should happen within a short time frame. If for any reason this hearing is delayed with no apparent reason, it is in breach of the defendant’s sixth amendment constitutional right for a speedy trial.
There might be a time when this hearing could be delayed after an indictment following a grand jury trial or criminal complaint. If this occurs, a defense lawyer might decide to request a dismissal of the case and charges brought against their client in light of an unreasonable delay.
Could There Be A Number Of Arraignments?
It’s possible that a defendant could attend multiple felony arraignments. For example, if a charge brought against the defendant is reduced from murder to voluntary manslaughter, the Judge might decide on a second arraignment hearing. Typically, a defendant will offer the same plea as the first hearing – but not always.
Does The Defendant Definitely Have To Attend Their Hearing?
Typically, a defendant must attend their felony arraignment hearing but there can be extenuating circumstances in which other solutions might be used. For example, a defendant might attend their hearing via a two-way video or audio connection. Perhaps due to ill health or being stuck somewhere else due to weather or transportation problems.
A defendant’s attorney can’t attend the hearing instead of the defendant or representing them on their behalf. If the defendant chooses not to turn up to their felony arraignment hearing, a bench warrant (a warrant for their arrest) may be issued that allows law enforcement to seek out and arrest the defendant.
The worst part about failing to appear in court for a felony case is that – failing to appear is a felony offense! Effectively, avoiding the hearing will result in you having to answer to two felony charges.
What Do The Pleas Mean?
There are three pleas a defendant can offer. Guilty, not guilty or no contest. Here’s what they mean:
If you plead guilty to the felony charges that you’re accused of, you’re admitting to the crimes with no defense which means the judge can easily issue the punishment against you. Often, people might agree to plea bargains where they speed up the court process by admitting guilt to their alleged crimes in exchange for a shorter jail sentence or a reduced fine.
A not guilty plea means that you’re saying you did not commit the crime(s) that you are being accused of. In this instance, the following court cases will examine the circumstances and evidence surrounding the case and present them to the jury. If the jury finds you innocent of the accusations, you’re relieved of the charges. However, if you’re found guilty after pleading not guilty, you may face the most severe of sentences.
Pleading no contest or nolo contendere means that you’re neither admitting guilt or pleading innocence. In this instance, the defendant will be able to speak with the Judge and explain to them why they’re making a plea of no contest, allowing the judge to get a more informed understanding of the defendant and the surrounding situation. It’s possible that a plea of this kind can result in less severe punishment than a not guilty plea that arrives at a guilty result will.
Setting The Conditions For Pretrial Release
If it’s applicable, a state may ask to set conditions for the defendant’s pretrial release. When deciding whether or not to allow the defendant back out into the community before their trial process, the court must consider and assess the following factors:
- Is the defendant a danger to the community?
- What is the defendant’s criminal background?
- Does the defendant have ties to the local community? How long have they lived there and do they have family in the community?
- Is the defendant employed within the community?
- Will the defendant abscond or fail to appear in court? Have they failed to appear before?
The results could be:
- Bail bond
- Release on condition of returning to court
- Release as above but with extra conditions such as alcohol ban or attending AA
A felony arraignment hearing is not a great time for anybody and it can be a very confusing and frightening experience. Whenever you’re in any sort of legal dispute, it is always worth hiring an experienced defense attorney who will be able to advise you on your next steps and what you should do.