An arraignment is a court hearing at which you are formally charged with a crime. You will stand before a judge and a clerk, one of whom will read the charges against you. A plea of not guilty may be entered on your behalf or you may be asked how you plead, in which case you should plead not guilty (you can always change your plea later). There may be a bail hearing, depending on whether the prosecution is asking for bail.
You should definitely speak to an attorney. It sounds like you have a good case, which is when you need a lawyer the most.
The New York State Unified Court System Criminal Justice Handbook describes an arraignment as follows:
“Once these procedures are completed, you are brought to court for arraignment, where you will learn what charges have been brought against you. At the arraignment, your lawyer and the prosecutor may discuss the possibility of settling your case without the need of having a trial. They may negotiate a plea bargain which you may either accept and plead guilty, or reject and plead not guilty.
You have the right to a lawyer at the arraignment. You may hire your own lawyer or, if you do not have enough money to hire your own lawyer, the court will appoint a lawyer from The Legal Aid Society, the Assigned Counsel Plan for the City of New York (18-B lawyer), Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, New York County Defender Services, Queens Law Associates, P.C., or the Office of Paul Battiste, Esq. (Staten Island). In the most serious homicide cases, a lawyer from the Capital Defender's Office, or a lawyer specially trained to handle such cases, will be appointed. All such lawyers are paid by the State. If you intend to hire your own lawyer, but cannot do so in time for your arraignment, the judge will appoint one to represent you, at the State's expense, for the arraignment only. After that time, the lawyer you hire will represent you. You may also represent yourself and act as your own lawyer; however, it is better to have a lawyer represent you. If you are not content with the lawyer who is representing you, you may ask the judge to appoint a new lawyer for you or allow you to hire a new lawyer at your own expense. If you do not have a good reason for wanting a new lawyer, the judge will not appoint a new lawyer and may not allow you to hire a new lawyer.
If you are in jail, the prosecutor will have a chance at the arraignment to ask the judge to keep you in jail (remand) or order bail. Your lawyer will be given a chance to reply to the prosecutor's arguments. The judge will then decide your bail conditions. Your bail conditions may change as your case continues.
If you are released, you must appear in court every time your case is calendared. At each court appearance, you will be informed of your next court date. Your lawyer should inform you if the date is changed. However, it is your responsibility to know when and where to appear. You should arrive in court at 9:30 a.m. or at what ever time the judge sets and wait there for your lawyer to appear. If you do not appear and do not notify the court or your lawyer, the judge will order a bench warrant for your arrest. This means that the police will be notified to find you, arrest you, and bring you to court. If you have posted bail, it may be forfeited (not returned to you). If the police arrest you and bring you to court, the judge may change your bail conditions by requiring that you pay more bail or by remanding you. Once a bench warrant is ordered, it remains on your fingerprint report (rap sheet).
In some instances, the judge may order you to stay away from a witness or victim. This order is called a temporary order of protection. If you do not obey the order, you could be arrested and new charges may be brought against you for disobeying the order. The judge may also order stricter bail conditions for disobeying the temporary order of protection,”
A complete copy of the Handbook can be found at:
I recommend that all criminal defendants review it.
You probably charged with petit larcency and criminal possession of stolen property, both A misdemeanors. You definetly should have a lawyer. In fact, the court will require it. Since your a grad student with a promising future, you certainly don't want to enter the work force with a criminal conviction (NY does not have expungement), I used to be an assistant DA in Westchester. In my experience, if this is a first arrest, the DA will allow your attorney to negotiate a plea that avoids you winding up with a criminal conviction.
If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to contact me at anytime.