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What to Expect at the Arraignment Hearing
After a criminal suspect has been arrested, booked and had a preliminary hearing, the next step of the criminal process is a court appearance known as an arraignment hearing.
Entering a Plea
Several things occur during the arraignment. First, the criminal charges will be read aloud in court. Next you'll be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
If you plead not guilty, you're saying that you didn't commit the crime with which you've been charged. At some point in the future there will be a criminal trial to determine your guilt or innocence. If you plead guilty, you're admitting to having committed the crime. If you plead guilty, you may be sentenced immediately or sentencing might be scheduled for a later date.
In some states, you may be allowed to enter what's known as a mute plea. When you enter a mute plea, you don't say anything and the court will automatically enter a not-guilty plea on your behalf. A mute plea is a strategic decision that is only used in specific situations, so you'll want to consult with your criminal defense attorney before entering a mute plea.
If you have not yet hired a criminal defense lawyer, you can request a continuance of the arraignment hearing. This gives you more time to hire and consult with an attorney prior to entering a plea.
After Entering a Plea
Assuming you've entered a not-guilty plea, several additional things will occur at the arraignment:
- Dates will be set for future court hearings and for the trial
- The prosecutor will also give your lawyer copies of any evidence relevant to your case
- Depending on the severity of the charges against you and on your plea, you will either return to jail or the judge will set bail, which allows you to remain free while waiting for your trial or for the sentencing.