I've been charged with a crime - What happens at the arraignment?
What is an arraignment?An arraignment is a hearing where you are required to come to court and enter a plea. It is the first court date for criminal proceedings and starts the clock on your speedy trial rights.
What happens during the arraignment?Your attorney will receive the complaint and discovery in your case. The discovery usually consists of a police report, and any other evidence that has been used to charge you. The complaint is a list of the charges against you. Your attorney should tell you what you are charged with and what the maximum exposure is so you know what you're dealing with.
It is very common to plead not guilty at this stage in the proceedings since it is still very early. Sometimes you may have no choice but to plead not guilty if there has been no offer to settle made by the prosecutor or by the court. Bail is another important issue. The judge will decide whether to release you on your "Own Recognizance" (OR), or to set bail. If released OR, you don't have to pay money to stay out of custody - but you must sign a promise to appear. If bail is set, then in order to stay out of custody, you must post a bond or bail. After the arraignment, another court date will be set for pretrial matters.
So how do I prepare for an arraignment?The MOST important thing about an arraignment is making sure to show up! If you do not show, then the court will issue a bench warrant for your arrest. Whether you have been wrongly accused, or whether you are afraid to go jail, you MUST show up to court. Make sure to come to court dressed appropriately - no jeans, flip flops, shorts, or t-shirts. If possible, show up in a suit. If you don't have a suit, then make sure to wear something presentable, such a nice pants and a button up shirt for men, or nice pants or an appropriate length skirt for women.
Another very important preparation for court is having the right attorney. If you can afford it, hire an attorney you feel comfortable with and consult with them prior to the arraignment. I have written a legal guide here on Avvo if you would like to read in further detail about my suggestions for picking the right one.