Criminal Defense Law Center
West Michigan

it's important you understand what an arraignment is if you or someone you know has been chargef

Arraignment

Anyone who has been arrested or charged with a crime will have to appear in court for an arraignment. The Arraignment is the first formal court appearance someone will make when they are facing criminal charges. At the arraignment, a judge will read on the record the charge or charges the defendant is facing. The judge will also inform the defendant what the maximum possible time of incarceration is for the charges and how high the fines can be if the defendant is convicted of the crime. Finally, if the charges carry other punitive requirements such as a suspension of the driver’s license and registration on the sex offender registration, the defendant will be informed of those potential punishments. 

Bond is sometimes set the defendant’s arraignment.   Depending on how serious the charge is, Bond can be anywhere from personal recognizance, to no bond. In other cases, the bond is set before the arraignment hearing.

What Happens At An Arraignment Hearing

Arraignment is the first step in criminal proceedings at a courtroom. The arraignment happens after the arrest and booking. At an arraignment, the defendant will go in front of a judge. The Judge will then proceed to:

  • Formally read the charges against the person who is called a defendant
  • Inquire if the defendant is in need of a court appointed attorney or if they already have an attorney or plan on retaining a lawyer themselves. 
  • For misdemeanor charges the judge will ask the defendant if they want to plead guilty, not guilty, stand mute (which the court treats as a not guilty plea) or no contest. If the charge the defendant is facing is a felony, the judge will automatically enter a plea of not guilty. 
  • Sometimes Bail will be set by the judge if bail has not already been set. If Bail had been set before the arraignment, the defendant will be given the right to ask for a low bail amount to be set or ask the judge to lower the amount if it has already been set. When a court determines what the bail amount will be, it considers things like the defendant’s criminal record, the threat they are to the community, the defendant’s ties to the community (does he have family around, how long has the defendant been here) employment and does the defendant have a history of not showing up for court. 
  • Future court dates can be set. If the defendant is facing felony charges, they will be given the date of a probable cause hearing and when their preliminary examination will be held. 
  • In some states, courts are required to advise defendants of their constitutional rights. In Michigan, a judge will make sure the defendant has read over and signed an advice of rights sheet. This sheet informs a defendant of their right to have a jury trial, their right to have counsel, their rights to call witnesses and cross examine any witnesses that testify against them. 

Can You Go To Jail At An Arraignment

Yes, if the judge sets the defendant’s bail at an amount they are not able to pay, the defendant will be taken to jail if they are not in custody going into the arraignment hearing. In some cases, if the defendant has been violating terms of their release before the arraignment, the judge may revoke bail and the defendant will be taken to jail. 

Felonies Vs. Misdemeanors: The Differences

The only major difference between felony and misdemeanor arraignments is at felony arraignments, the defendant will be given dates for his probable cause conference and preliminary exam. A preliminary exam is a “mini trial” where a prosecutor must prove the elements of the crime the defendant is charged with. The proof at a preliminary exam is much lower than the burden of proof at a trial. The prosecutor only needs to show there is probable cause that a crime happened and that there is probably cause that the defendant was the person who committed the crime. 

What Happens After Arraignment

After the defendant has been arraigned on a misdemeanor charge, the court will set the case up for a pretrial conference. At this conference, the defendant or their attorney will talk to the prosecutor and the parties will try to reach a plea agreement to settle the case. If the defendant is charged with an operating while intoxicated first offense charge, the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney may agree to a plea bargain that requires the defendant to plead guilty to the lesser offense of operating while impaired. If the case doesn’t settle after the first pretrial conference, most courts will have at least one more pretrial conference. If the parties are not able to reach a plea deal, the case will be set for a trial. Some courts have the parties pick a jury on a separate date before the actual trial. Other courts have the parties pick a jury and then have the trial right afterwards. In some cases, the parties may agree to have a bench trial. This is where the judge will determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant after the opposing parties have presented their case. 

If the defendant is being charged with a felony, the next steps after the arraignment will be a probable cause conference and a preliminary exam. The steps that take place next are status conferences. These conferences are a chance for the parties to reach a plea deal. If a plea deal isn’t reached, a jury will be picked followed by a trial. The parties in felony cases can also agree to have a bench trial where the judge will determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant. 

Waiver Of Arraignment

If you hire an attorney to represent you, several West Michigan courthouses will allow your attorney to waive the arraignment. Allegan County district court will allow a person to waive the arraignment on a misdemeanor charge. Your attorney will file their appearance, demand a jury trial, enter a not guilty plea on your behalf and promise that the defendant will not use drugs or alcohol while the case is pending. If the defendant is facing a felony charge, a waiver of arraignment will not be allowed. The defendant will have to show up to court for the hearing. 

Should I Plead Guilty At Arraignment & What Happens If I Do

A defendant should never plea guilty at their arraignment. It is in the best interest of the defendant to hire a lawyer to help them when they are facing a misdemeanor or felony charge. In many instances, an attorney can help their client get at least a reduction in charges. In many instances an attorney can help their client get a no jail recommendation as part of a plea bargain for a misdemeanor charge. If the defendant is facing a felony charge, they will not be allowed to enter a guilty plea at their arraignment. 

Arraignment and the Right to Counsel

We receive many calls from people wondering why they were not offered the services of an attorney at their arraignment. The main reason why people do not get offered the help of a court appointed attorney is the fact that they are not facing jail time if convicted of the crime. Counsel will only be appointed when the judge feels there is a possibility of jail time upon conviction of the charges. The other reason why a person may be denied a court appointed attorney or a public defender is they make too much money and the judge feels the defendant can afford to hire their own attorney. 

Even if a defendant meets the criteria for getting a court appointed attorney, we would still recommend at least talking to an experienced attorney like me, Shawn Haff, before moving forward with a court appointed attorney. Going with a court appointed attorney is rolling the dice on your future. You may get a public defender who does an outstanding job on your case and who keeps you completely informed about your case every step of the way. You may get a public defender who puts forth a lot of effort on your case. Of course, you may get a public defender who will only push you to quickly reach a plea deal and who is not interested in fighting for the best results possible in your case. There are a lot of court appointed attorneys, who simply do not have the time needed to keep their clients informed about their case and answer properly every single question their clients might have. That doesn’t happen when you hire me to represent you in a case. I will always promptly return calls, keep my clients informed about what is going on and try my best to get my clients the best outcome possible. If I think a defendant has a court appointed attorney who is going to do a good job on their case, I will let them know that. 

Final Thoughts

At the arraignment, the defendant is only at the first step of the criminal process. Defendants should always enter a not guilty plea and then seek competent representation as soon as possible by calling me at 616-438-6719. The call is free. Will you be? 

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