July 12, 2009 By Wallin & Klarich

When a person is charged with a crime, the first formal legal process is the arraignment. The arraignment is a hearing before a judge where several important things occur. If a person is in custody, the arraignment must occur within two to three days. Otherwise, arraignment is usually set for a date several weeks in the future.

There are several purposes of an arraignment. First, the defendant is formally read the charges he or she is facing. Next, the defendant is informed of his or her rights. For misdemeanor and felony crimes in California, these include a right to a jury trial, a right to present evidence, a right to confront adverse witnesses, and, if any jail time is a possibility, a right to an attorney. To be appointed a Public Defender, a defendant must meet certain income criteria. Depending on your income level and assets, the court may or may not decide that you qualify for the services of the Public Defender. If the court determines you do not qualify, generally you will be allowed to continue the arraignment in order to obtain a private attorney.

In a misdemeanor case, even if you do qualify for a Public Defender, it is often wise to obtain the services of a private attorney, because they may appear at the arraignment (and several other proceedings) without your presence. A great benefit of retaining private counsel is the simple fact that you do not have to miss work and spend all morning in a courtroom waiting to be called. This is true in some proceedings in felony cases as well, although courts vary in their requirements for the presence of the defendant.

The arraignment is also the point where the District Attorney (or City Attorney, depending on which agency is prosecuting your case) will provide you or your lawyer with a copy of the complaint (the formal document stating the charges against you) and the police report or other information on which your charges are based. Once you and your lawyer have a copy of this information, you have a much better idea what kind of case you have. The defendant is also given an opportunity at this point to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. At the arraignment, you should almost always plead not guilty! You have just received the evidence against you, so why would you want to admit guilt before even examining your case?

If you have been arrested and have an arraignment scheduled, it would be wise of you to contact an experienced criminal defense California attorney, like those at Wallin & Klarich, today. If you do not qualify for, or do not wish to be represented by the Public Defender, it would be prudent to retain private counsel immediately or the initial arraignment will simply be a waste of a morning in court. To speak with a skilled attorney about your case and what can be done, call Wallin & Klarich at 1-888-280-6839 or visit us online at www.wklaw.com.

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