What’s an Arraignment, and What to Expect

Arraignment is the first step in the process for a criminal case. It is the first opportunity to preserve your rights as a defendant, and to learn the legal circumstances of the case against you. Most importantly, it is at arraignment that the Court decides whether to release you, set bail, or keep you in jail. Therefore, it is vital to have an experienced Defense Attorney at your side at arraignment. At the Law Office of Andres J. Bermudez Hallstrom, we know the ins and outs of arraignments and how to get the best results for our clients.

After an individual is arrested and charged with a non-traffic offense or crime, they must be brought before a Judge and “arraigned”. At the arraignment, the person charged is advised as to the charges against them, advised as to their rights, and enters a plea. The Judge may also release the person charged (with or without special conditions), set bail, or remand the person to the local jail.

The arraignment may occur immediately after arrest, or the individual may be released upon payment of bail set by the Police Department, or on their promise to appear in Court. If released by the Police Department, the individual is given a “Desk Appearance Ticket” advising them of the date to appear in Court for their formal arraignment.

Once your case in called for arraignment by the Judge, the arraignment itself takes only a few minutes. Sometimes you will be required to sign certain paperwork. Signing the required forms is not an admission of guilt. You may be required to sign a financial affidavit to see if you qualify for an assigned Attorney paid for by the Government.

An individual charged with an offense has an absolute right to have an Attorney present during their arraignment. If the individual cannot afford an Attorney, one is assigned to them during the arraignment at no cost.

If you have an Attorney present at arraignment, they will generally “waive reading” of the charges and your rights. This simply means that you would rather not have the Judge read out loud the charges against you and the circumstances of the offense you are charged with. This is generally done to preserve your privacy so that everyone present in Court is not told why you are there. Waiving a reading of your rights is done to save time, since your Attorney will advise you of your rights as a defendant.

Your Attorney will then enter a plea of “not guilty” on your behalf. A not guilty plea is simply saying you are invoking your right to have the District Attorney prove the charges against you. It does not mean that you are swearing you did not commit the offenses charged, or that you do not wish to negotiate a plea bargain. While you do have a right to plead “guilty” at arraignment, it is generally inadvisable to do so. If you are being charged with a felony, no plea is entered at arraignment unless you are being arraigned in County or Supreme Court after being indicted.

The next step is applying for bail if it has not already been set, or a release on your recognizance (ROR) — a promise that you will appear at all your future Court dates. Whether a Judge RORs an individual or sets bail is determined by a number of factors. These include the individual’s risk or history of avoiding Court, the circumstances of the offenses charged, the individual’s past criminal history, and the weight of the evidence against the individual. Your Attorney will ask you several questions prior to your arraignment to help him apply for bail or ROR on your behalf. If the individual is charged with violations or misdemeanors, the Court is required to ROR or set bail. The Court is prohibited from setting bail under certain circumstances for individuals charged with felonies. For all other felony cases, the Court may set bail but is not required to.

At the arraignment, the defense may be served with certain paperwork by the District Attorney. These documents may contain more facts about the case, or required legal notices regarding alibis, identification, or statements made to law enforcement.

If you are being charged with certain drunk or drugged driving crimes, your license or privilege to drive in the State of New York will be suspended at arraignment and until your case is disposed of. If you have a New York State Driver’s License, you will need to turn it in to the Court if you have not already turned it in to the Police. If you are applying for a “hardship privilege” to be able to drive while your case in pending, the hearing may be done as part of the arraignment or scheduled for a later date.

If you are being charged with a crime involving drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, or there are indications you may require mental health treatment, you may be assigned to Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities (TASC) or a similar program. As a condition of your release, you will need to schedule an appointment with TASC, and take part in any evaluation or treatment TASC believes you require. Your treatment provider will then report your progress to TASC, and TASC will report to the Court. If you fail to cooperate with TASC, your bail may be increased or your ROR revoked.

If you are charged with a crime against an individual, you may be required to sign a Temporary Order of Protection. This order may require you to have no contact with the protected individual, and to commit no further offenses against them. Violating the order is a crime, and potentially even a felony. If the protected individual is a family member or intimate partner of the defendant, the Order of Protection may be modified by the Family or Supreme Court.

If you are charged with a felony, you have the right to request a Preliminary (or “Felony”) Hearing, where the District Attorney must show reasonable cause to believe a crime has been committed. This hearing must happen within 120-144 hours of your arrest unless you agree to a longer delay. If you are in jail and the hearing does not occur as required, you must be released from jail unless your are being held on a hold such as from Parole or Immigration.

The final step of the arraignment is to set a date for your next Court appearance. It is your responsibility to remember the date and time you are due back in Court. The Court will not send you a reminder letter. At the Law Office of Andres J. Bermudez Hallstrom, we always send our clients reminders of their next Court dates.

If you have been released by the Court, you will be released either from the courtroom itself or from the Court’s holding cell. If bail has been set, you or someone on your behalf can pay it at the Court immediately, or you will be transported to the local jail where bail can be posted.

At the Law Office of Andres J. Bermudez Hallstrom, we have a 24/7 emergency hotline for people who have been arrested and are awaiting arraignment. Simply call our office at 914-315-4018, and an Attorney will be available to help.