Written by attorney James J White

What to Bring to Your Arraignment

Your arraignment is your first appearance before the court. It is where you are formally informed of the charge and enter a plea of not guilty (please see other guides as to why your plea should almost always be not guilty but consult with an attorney about your specific situation). However, and most importantly to you, it is where the Judge sets Conditions of Release. That is to say, this is when the Judge can take you into custody. Often, you have not yet had time to hire an attorney or you have not spoken to your public defender. So, do not be unprepared for this first hearing.

The Judge is considering three factors when setting conditions of release. Under Court Rule 3.2 he/she should consider:

  1. The likelihood of your future appearance.
  2. Your danger to the community.
  3. The chance you'll attempt to tamper with witnesses.

You will want to bring documentation dealing with each and every one of these issues. Let me emphasize the importance of bringing it in writing. Your Judge unfortunately hears stories, i.e. lies, all day long. Sadly, he/she may assume you are lying too. So document everything that you can. Let's take the three factors in turn.

Future Appearance.

The likelihood that you will miss future court will be analyzed by the Judge as follows:

  1. What are your ties to the community?
  2. Have you missed court in the past?

Ties to the community are family, employment, residence and such. Why leave this to chance? Bring in your lease agreement showing residence. Bring in letters of support from family and, even more importantly, employers. The letter from the employer should say how long you have worked for them and in what capacity. If it goes on to say that you are reliable, hardworking, etc, all the better. You do not need to tell your employer why you need the letter. Just get one. All letters should be on company letterhead and signed. Getting a phone number in case your lawyer wants to confirm any of the information is a good idea too.

If you had a valid reason you missed court in the past, like you were hospitalized, deployed or out of state, document that as well. Bring records from the hospital, military or your airline ticket. Sometimes "changes in life circumstances" happen that you can show as well. I'll address that further in Danger to the Community below.

Danger to the Community.

Some offenses (DUI, Assault) and past history of the same will make the Judge worry that you are a danger. The easiest way to overcome these concerns are to document "changes in life circumstances" that show that you are no longer a worry. Did you have a wild youth but since having a child of your own stop causing trouble? Bring a copy of your child's birth certificate. Did you used to have a drug/alcohol problem but get treatment? Bring proof that you went through treatment. If the current offense is an alcohol or drug related offense I highly recommend bringing proof that you've had a chemical dependency evaluation and begun the treatment that was recommended. If you cannot afford treatment at least bring proof that you have been attending AA/NA two or three times a week since the incident happened. After all, these meetings are free.

Tampering with Witnesses.

In many cases (DUI for example) this is not an issue because the witness is a law enforcement officer. Other cases, like domestic violence assault, this will be one of the biggest concern of the Judge along with any potential danger to the witness. Be ready to show that you can stay away from the witness. if you lived together, show that you have another housing arrangement. A letter from family or friends saying you are welcome to stay with them and noting the address is perfect.

Remember, this is all to keep you from going to jail. The Judge knows that you will not miss court, not endanger the community and not tamper with witnesses if you are in jail. So, bring the documentation I stated above to make sure the Judge knows that letting you walk out of the courtroom is a safe decision for all involved.

Additional resources provided by the author

Contact your local public defender for more information.

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