What is an "Arraignment?"
Florida criminal law requires that all people charged with a crime have an arraignment. An arraignment is a type of court hearing that happens early on in a criminal case. At the arraignment the judge will tell the person accused of a crime with the potential punishments. The arraignment is NOT the time to try and explain your situation to the judge or offer your defense.
Many times a person feels like if they could only explain things to the judge then maybe it would all go away. While this desire is understandable, it can only backfire. The judge doesn't have the power to dismiss the charges, at least not during the arraignment. There are recording devices in the courtroom that will pick up everything a person says, which can then be used as evidence against them later. Many times a person will say something that they don't realize is important but ends up being extremely helpful for the State. The courtroom will have a prosecutor listening to everything you say and they are perfectly willing to twist what you say to help their case. In all likelihood, the judge will cut a person off to tell them not say anything for these very reasons. The judge isn't being rude, they just want to protect your rights. Also, there are going to be a lot of cases all set for arraignment and it will take forever if everyone tries to talk their way out the case.
So what does happen at the arraignment? There are three main things that will happen. First, the judge will want you to enter a plea. A person can plead not guilty, guilty, or no contest. The prosecutor MIGHT make an offer to resolve the case but it would be doing so without having a lawyer review the evidence and determine whether any defenses are available. There could be legal, factual, or technical defenses that would make a difference in the outcome. Besides, usually having an attorney review the evidence for defenses only increases the chance of getting a better offer. The defense attorney's job is to look for weaknesses in the prosecution's case and they can leverage those weaknesses during a negotiation. So in general, it is advisable for a person to enter a not guilty plea in order to have an attorney review the evidence. The important part here is that a person should have an opportunity to be fully informed so they can make an intelligent decision. Second, the court will want to know what the defendant intends to do about legal representation. If a person has a lawyer before the arraignment then the lawyer can waive the client's appearance and handle it on their behalf. So if a person shows up to court for their arraignment then in all likelihood they don't yet have a lawyer. The judge will want to know if the defendant intends to hire a private attorney or if they are seeking the appointment of the public defender. Either way, it is always better to have a lawyer representing a criminal defendant then that person going it alone "pro se." Finally, the court will set future court dates.
There's not much for a person to do at an arraignment because, again, it's not the time to present their defense or explain away the case. It is a fairly simple and straightforward hearing in which the judge simply wants to enter a plea, identify legal counsel, and set additional court dates. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us at www.TrabinLaw.com or send us an email at TrabinLaw@gmail.com.