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Sep 24, 2019

What Happens at an Arraignment Hearing in a Criminal Case?

If you’ve been arrested for a crime in Alameda County, you may be wondering what happens at an arraignment hearing in a criminal case. If so, you’re not alone. Many of those accused of misdemeanors and felonies don’t truly understand the purpose of an arraignment hearing, the timing regarding when the hearing will take place, or the necessity of having a Dublin criminal lawyer at their side.

The Purpose of an Alameda County Arraignment

Your arraignment takes place following your arrest and after the Alameda County District Attorney’s office has filed charges against you. Your arraignment is held in court, before a judge. In a nutshell, the judge informs you of your rights, tells you the charges that have been filed against you, and asks for your plea. During your arraignment, the court will also determine whether or not you’ll be released on bail, released on your own recognizance, or held in jail until your trial. This is all by way of saying that there is a lot at stake during your arraignment, which is why you need an experienced Dublin criminal attorney to represent you.

The Timing of a California Arraignment

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial. Your arraignment falls under those Sixth Amendment protections. The timing of your arraignment depends upon whether or not you are in jail following your arrest. If you are in police custody in Alameda County, then you must be arraigned within 48 hours of your arrest. Unfortunately, the 48-hour rule doesn’t include weekends and holidays. So, for example, if you are arrested on a Friday night, you might not be arraigned until Tuesday. Similarly, if you’re arrested on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, you might not be arraigned until the Monday after Thanksgiving.

If you are not in police custody, then your arraignment won’t occur within that 48-hour window. Instead, it will be scheduled at least ten days from the date of your arrest.

Alameda County Arraignment: Your Rights

In addition to your right to a speedy trial, you have a number of other rights under both U.S. and California law. During your arraignment, you will be notified of these rights. For example, you have the right not to incriminate yourself. Known as “taking the Fifth,” you are entitled under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to refuse to answer questions that could implicate your guilt in a crime. You have the right to question any witnesses against you and to put forward your own witnesses. In reality, of course, your Dublin criminal attorney will do this on your behalf. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony, you have the right to a jury trial. In addition, you have the right to legal representation.

Who Attends an Alameda County Arraignment?

When you wonder what happens at an arraignment hearing in a criminal case, one of the questions you may have relates to who will be in attendance. The judge and other court personnel will be present, as will a lawyer from the Alameda County District Attorney’s office. Your Dublin criminal lawyer will also be there to represent you.

You might not realize that, depending on the charges, you may not have to appear in court at your arraignment. If you are facing misdemeanor charges, for example, your Alameda County criminal attorney can often appear in your place. The main exceptions to this rule are if you are charged with an aggravated DUI crime, domestic violence, or violating a restraining order. If you’re charged with a felony, you must appear at your arraignment unless your Dublin criminal lawyer has obtained a waiver.

If you’re required to appear at your arraignment and then don’t show up, the judge will likely issue a bench warrant. This means that you can be picked up by police and taken to court. In addition, a failure to appear when you’re facing felony charges is itself a felony.

Charges are Read During Your Arraignment

During your Alameda County arraignment, you are told the charges against you. For example, if you were arrested on charges related to spousal abuse, during your arraignment you might be told you are accused of violating Section 243(e)(1) of the California Penal Code – also known as domestic battery. Or, you may be told you are charged with a violation of Penal Code Section 273.5, relating to injuring an intimate partner. Similarly, if you were arrested for stealing, during your arraignment you may be told that you are accused of violating Section 211 of the California Penal Code. The charge may be robbery in the first degree or robbery in the second degree.

It’s important to note that the charges read at your arraignment may be slightly or significantly different than those listed at the time of your arrest. This is because, in the course of their investigation, law enforcement may have found evidence of different or additional crimes and the Alameda County District Attorney’s office may believe that they can prove that you committed those crimes.

If you and your Dublin criminal attorney are already aware of the charges against you and reading them in court would be a formality, then you can waive the reading of the charges during your arraignment.

Your Plea During Your Arraignment

During your arraignment, the judge asks how you plea to the charges against you. The three primary options are guilty, not guilty, and no contest. A not guilty plea leads to the next steps in the criminal justice process. This is likely a preliminary hearing, where the judge makes a determination about whether or not the Alameda County District Attorney has the evidence needed to convince a jury to convict you. The standard that the judge uses is called “probable cause.” This is a lower bar than a jury’s standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In other words, in order for your case to move forward, a judge needs to determine that there is probable cause to believe that there is enough evidence against you to convict you. In contrast, a jury needs to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime you’re accused of in order to convict you. Your Dublin criminal lawyer will almost always recommend that, during your arraignment, you enter a plea of not guilty to the charges.

A guilty plea leads directly to a sentencing hearing, which most often is scheduled for a different day. Why would you plead guilty? Perhaps your Dublin criminal attorney has negotiated a plea agreement – with your consent – with the Alameda County District Attorney’s office. For example, instead of a DUI charge, your Dublin criminal lawyer may cut a deal where the DA lessens the charge to a “wet reckless” in exchange for your guilty plea. Cases involving guilty pleas are overwhelmingly resolved though plea negotiations, as plea agreements save time and money for the District Attorney’s office and the court system.

A no contest plea – also called a nolo contendere plea – works the same as a guilty plea when it comes to criminal charges, but helps protect you from related civil cases. For example, if you are charged with vehicular manslaughter while under the influence, you may plead no contest so that the family can’t use your guilty plea against you if they choose to sue you in civil court for wrongful death.

Depending on the charges against you, you may have one other plea option during your Alameda County arraignment. If you’re charged with a crime involving nonviolent drug possession, for example, your Dublin criminal attorney can ask for a deferred entry of judgment. This means that, if you successfully complete an educational program and rehabilitation, then the charges against you will be dropped.

Arraignment and Bail

If you are in custody at the time of your Alameda County arraignment and plead not guilty to the charges, then the judge can make a determination about modifying your bail. For many charges, the amount of bail is set according to the Alameda County Bail Schedule. Examples of bail amounts for felony charges are:

  • Manslaughter – $100,000
  • Involuntary manslaughter – $30,000
  • Second degree robbery – $50,000
  • Assault with a deadly weapon – $30,000
  • Petty theft – $15,000
  • Carrying a concealed weapon – $40,000

Examples of bail amounts for misdemeanor charges are:

  • Battery – $5,000
  • Indecent exposure – $10,000
  • Brandishing a weapon – $5,000
  • Joyriding – $2,500
  • Drunk in public – $2,500

There are other charges that do not carry specific amounts as determined by the Alameda County Bail Schedule, such as murder and attempted murder. For those charges, the judge makes a determination about whether or not bail is set and the amount of bail set.

Bail is meant to be a financial incentive that ensures you will appear at your court date. At your arraignment, the judge can take one of three courses of action. First, they can set bail and send you back to jail until you are able to post bail. Second, they can refuse to set bail and send you back to jail. When making this determination, the judge may take into account the seriousness of your crime, your criminal record, whether or not you have family or other ties to Alameda County, if you have a job, and if you have a history of failing to appear in court. In other words, the judge makes a determination about whether you are a flight risk and whether you are a danger to the community.

Finally, the judge can decide to release you on your own recognizance, which means that you have to give your word that you will return for your court date. Often, there are other conditions attached to being released on your own recognizance. These can include things like drug tests, not being able to leave Alameda County or California, and alcohol counseling.

Your Dublin criminal lawyer understands the implications of bail and own recognizance release, and can guide you to the best choice for you and your case. Depending on which course of action is in your best interest, at your arraignment they can make the case that your bail should be lowered or reinstated, or that you should be released on your own recognizance.

Finding the Right Dublin Criminal Lawyer

If you’ve been arrested and are wondering what happens at an arraignment hearing in a criminal case, it’s time to find an experienced Dublin criminal attorney who is ready to fight for your freedom, your future, and your peace of mind. The attorneys at Silver Law Firm have the knowledge and skill to represent you during your arraignment and afterwards, and will achieve the best possible outcome for you and your family.

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