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The Arraignment: One of the Most Important Moments in Your Criminal Case


In movies about criminal cases, the climactic scene usually occurs when the jury returns a verdict of guilty or not guilty.  In real life, only a small fraction of cases go to trial, but every criminal case includes an arraignment.  The arraignment is when the judge reads out loud the criminal charges against the defendant, and the defendant enters a plea, usually guilty or not guilty.  In felony cases, it takes many steps to get to an arraignment, and the process continues after the arraignment, even if the defendant pleads guilty.  The best way to ensure that the criminal justice system respects your legal rights at every stage of your case is to start working with a criminal defense lawyer even before your arraignment.

What Happens at an Arraignment?

The arraignment is your first court appearance after your arrest.  At an arraignment, the judge reads out loud your name and the crimes you allegedly committed and then asks you how you plead.  For example, the judge might say, “On Friday, May 13, you, Edgar Plum, allegedly entered the house of John Doe by force and stole a grand piano, a pair of purple rain boots, and a jar of ground cardamom.  How do you plead to the charge of burglary?”  If you have been held in jail since your arrest, your arraignment usually happens within 48 hours of the arrest.  If you have been free since your arrest and booking, the arraignment must take place within 180 days.

What Kind of Plea Should You Enter?

These are some responses you can give to the question about how you plead to the charges:

·   ​Guilty- This is the answer that most defendants give.  Your case will then proceed to sentencing.

·   ​Not guilty – All defendants have the right to plead not guilty.  If you plead not guilty, your case will go to trial.  If the jury finds you guilty at trial, your sentence will be heavier than if you had pleaded guilty.

·   ​No contest – If you use this plea, your case will also go to sentencing.  Most defendants who plead no contest do it because they are also defendants in a related civil case, and by pleading guilty in the criminal case, they would automatically lose the civil case.

·   ​Alford plea – This is a guilty plea where you do not admit fault, but you admit that there is enough evidence against you for a jury to convict you beyond a reasonable doubt.  When defendants use this plea, it is usually to avoid the harshest sentences.

The Best Time to Hire a Lawyer Is Before the Arraignment

Deciding which plea to enter is one of the most important decisions in your criminal case.  Therefore, you need your lawyer’s advice the most before you must provide a plea at your arraignment.  If you have been arrested or are the subject of a criminal investigation, it is time to hire a criminal defense attorney.

Contact the Law Office of Patrick J. McLain, PLLC Before Your Arraignment

A criminal defense lawyer can help you make well-reasoned decisions about pleas and other matters related to your criminal case, so that the prosecution cannot intimidate you. Contact the Law Office of Patrick J. McLain, PLLC in Dallas, Texas to discuss your case.

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