Your top questions answered on what to expect during your arraignment in Louisiana.
What is the "arraignment?"
After the District Attorney files a bill of information or indictment, the DA must set the case for an "arraignment" within 30 days unless "just cause" exists for a longer delay. "Just cause" includes any reason beyond the control of the prosecution or the court. This is usually high burden to overcome, and usually you will receive a subpoena from the court to appear for your arraignment within that 30 day period.
What should I do if I get a subpoena to appear for an arraignment?
If you can afford an attorney, you should hire an attorney as quickly as possible to get started on your case. Generally, the attorney can get the bill of information or indictment to give you a better idea of the charges you are facing. In addition, they will be able to give you important advice on how to proceed forward and ways to protect yourself from giving the District Attorney any other incriminating evidence (i.e. jail tapes, talking to alleged victim/witnesses, etc.)
What happens during the arraignment?
The purpose of the arraignment is to formally notify the defendant of the charges against him by the District Attorney. The indictment or bill of information can be read in open court, but this can be waived by the defense attorney. During your arraignment, you can plead 1) guilty 2) not guilty 3) not guilty by reason of insanity or 4) nolo contendere.
What is pleading "nolo contendere?"
Otherwise known as the "no contest" plea. The court has the discretion to determine whether or not they will accept this plea. If the court accepts such a plea, it shall impose sentence or place the defendant on probation or release him during his good behavior. It is important to understand that upon a plea of nolo contendere is a conviction and may be considered as a prior conviction and provide a basis for prosecution and/or sentencing under the habitual offender law, and shall be a conviction for purposes of laws providing for the granting, suspension or revocation of licenses to operate motor vehicles. Entering into this plea is equivalent to admission of guilty and, with the exception of being unavailable as admission in civil trial, is treated as a guilty plea.
Do I have to plead in person?
Generally, a person charged with a felony must plead in person, although exceptions can be made in non-capital cases. Generally, it must be done in writing and is up to the Judge. A person who is charged with a misdemeanor may plead not guilty through counsel and may plead guilty through counsel with the permission of the court. If you refuse to enter your plea, or you are being evasive, the Court will enter a plea of not guilty on your behalf.
What if I can't afford an attorney?
The Court will ask you a series of questions and may ask that you provide evidence to show that you are either working, on disability or are unemployed. If the court finds that you are indigent (can't afford an attorney) then the court will appoint a public defender to represent you. If the Court believes that you can afford an attorney than they will most likely set a next court day for a "Hearing to determine counsel." They Judge will tell you to come back with a private attorney for that court date. If you need more information about your criminal arraignment and what you expect than don't hesitate to give us a call at 504-434-7000.
Additional resources provided by the author
American Bar Association
Louisiana Bar Association
New Orleans Bar Association-Criminal Defense Section
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