In Texas, certain legal terms have become so commonplace that people are accustomed to hearing them. One is the arraignment. With an arraignment, it is imperative to know what happens and how it can impact the case.
According to state law, any felony after which a person has been indicted and a misdemeanor with a potential penalty of imprisonment will require arraignment. It is done to identify the defendant and for them to make a plea. A minimum of two days must pass after there has been an indictment before the arraignment. Exceptions are when this is waived or the defendant is on bail.
There are three keys when preparing for an arraignment
People who have been arrested should immediately think about three fundamental aspects of the arraignment and be fully prepared for it. First, it is vital to speak to a lawyer. While it may sound simplistic, people who have been arrested will undoubtedly be under a great deal of stress. They might think that if they are cooperative with law enforcement and the court, they can curry favor and achieve a better outcome. This is a mistake.
The judge will ask the defendant if they have an attorney and if they understand the charges that have been lodged against them. Without an attorney, it is easy to make missteps that can be significantly costly as the case moves forward. The attorney can explain the charges, assess the available evidence, lay the groundwork for the defense and decide how to proceed. The lawyer will also protect the defendant from making the situation worse.
Second, it is crucial to know the purpose of the arraignment. It is not a courtroom drama where there are opening statements, witnesses, the presenting of the evidence and other aspects of a case. It is not for the defendant or the attorney to argue. In general, they will just listen to the charges. The lawyer is there to represent the defendant and do the talking for them. The defendant would be wise to simply listen and let the attorney do their job.
Finally, there will be a plea. There are three choices: guilty, not guilty and no contest. Pleading guilty ends the case right there and the defendant will then be at the mercy of the judge to give a sentence. The severity will depend on the charges themselves, but it is inadvisable to immediately plead guilty before understanding the entire scope of the case, the evidence and if there might be plea agreements available to reduce or even dismiss the charges.
Pleading no contest might occur in a case like a DUI where there are general sentencing guidelines and the person simply wants to get the case over with. Pleading not guilty will mean the case will proceed and the judge must decide if the defendant should be granted bail or released on their own recognizance. This too depends on the severity of the charges.
A violent crime could result in the judge not granting bail or making it a high amount. If it is a lower level crime, then the defendant may be freed on their own recognizance. Their standing in the community, whether they have a job, if they have previous arrests and convictions and other factors are weighed when this decision is made.
It is important to have legal assistance from the outset of a criminal case
When people have been arrested, a common mistake is that they fail to fully comprehend the legal terrain. The arraignment is part of that. While it is generally viewed as a basic process, that does not diminish how much it might matter later in the case.
An experienced legal professional can provide advice with the criminal defense from the arraignment and beyond. Since a conviction can negatively impact a person’s life in myriad ways, it is essential to try and avoid the worst penalties. This can start at the arraignment. Consulting with professionals with three decades of experience and who understand all areas of a criminal case can be a good start to reach a positive result.