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Right to an attorney at arraignment

Tacoma, WA |

I was denied an attorney at arraignment in Pierce County. The Pro Tem threatened me with contempt of court if I did not make a plea without an attorney. After bringing me back to court After lunch, she entered a plea for me against my wishes. Both the Tacoma Municipal Court website and the Pierce County Courthouse website stated clearly that I had the right to an attorney and that it would be wise to have one. Isn't it fraudulent to tell the public they have a right to an attorney at arraignment and then in court we are denied? Thank you.

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Attorney answers 2


At arraignment, defendants are apprised of their rights in a criminal case and of the charges against them, for the first time. At the arraignment hearing the judge may also make a finding of probable cause and set bail and other conditions of release, in addition to asking a defendant to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. While arraignment is a critical stage in the proceedings and thus should require the presence of counsel pursuant to CrRLJ 3.1, the current version of CrRLJ 4.1 is ambiguous regarding the requirement for counsel. The suggested amendments to this rule clarify the requirement for counsel to be available at arraignment for those unable to obtain counsel.

The current version of CrRLJ 4.1 states that a defendant may not be forced to enter a plea to the complaint until he or she has had a reasonable time to examine it and to consult with a lawyer, “if requested”. See CrRLJ 4.1(a) (2). The rule also requires the judge to “advise” a defendant on the record of the “right to be represented by a lawyer at arraignment and to have an appointed lawyer for arraignment if the defendant cannot afford one”. See CrRLJ 4.1(a) (3). By contrast, the superior court arraignment rule, CrR 4.1(c), requires that the judge inform any defendant who appears without counsel at arraignment of his or her right to have counsel before being arraigned. In the superior court, a judge is also obligated to assign counsel to a defendant if a defendant is not represented and is unable to obtain counsel...
The failure to provide counsel at arraignment erodes the crucial right to counsel firmly established in the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and in the Washington State Constitution, where the right to counsel is co-extensive with its federal counterpart. See Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932); Kirby v. Illinois, 406 U.S. 682 (1972); Coleman v. Alabama, 399 U.S. 1 (1970); State v. Long, 104 Wn. 2d 285 (1985)...


Arraignment is a critical stage in the proceedings, requiring counsel. I would consider obtaining a transcript of the hearing and sending a copy with your complaint to the Chief Judge of the Court and the State Bar.

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