The Criminal Court Process: Arraignment

After you have been arrested, it is beneficial to know and understand what happens next. Unless you are representing yourself, which most people opt against, you are not expected to know the law inside and out. However, this is your life, and you should have a general idea of what lies ahead for you. Here is a step by step account of criminal procedure.

The next step after arrest is arraignment. Also known as a first appearance, this is where you are informed of the charges against you. Present in the courtroom are yourself, your attorney, the prosecutor, the judge and all other interested parties. All court proceedings are accessible to the public unless otherwise stated by the presiding judge. After the charge(s) has been read aloud, you are asked to enter a plea of “guilty,” “not guilty,” or, in some cases, “no contest.” A plea of “guilty” states that you have, in fact, committed the crime you are accused of, and are open to plea bargain negotiations. It is important to note that more than 95% of cases end in a plea bargain. Unlike Law & Order and other crime television shows, most cases do not go to trial.

If you choose to enter a plea of “not guilty”, you stating that you are indeed innocent of the crime(s) you have been accused of, and are willing to prove your innocence in court. This sets the wheels of justice in motion—which means defense and prosecution will now prepare for trial.

The third option is a plea of “no contest,” which is neither an admission of guilt or innocence. However, it does carry the same weight as a guilty plea without actual verbalization, and offers similar benefits/outcomes as a guilty plea. A “no contest” plea is also rarely used and only admissible in certain states.

After the plea is entered, the prosecution requests remand, which means that you will be kept in jail until trial. The judge can then offer a bail/bond amount (the distinction between the two will be discussed later) or order that you be released on your own recognizance (ROR). This is essentially trust that is placed in you by the court that you will not attempt to flee. There are many mitigating factors that may persuade a judge to release someone on their own recognizance. These include having no previous records, having strong familial/community ties, employment, and so on.