If you find yourself faced with criminal charges for the first time, you likely have many questions and concerns.
Your arraignment serves as a crucial first stage in the court process.
1. What purpose does an arraignment serve?
During an arraignment, you and a judge get to hear the charges filed against you. During the process, you also learn about your legal rights to counsel. Typically, the judge asks if you have an attorney or need a public defender. At the end, you have to enter your plea of not guilty, guilty or no contest.
2. Do I have to attend my arraignment?
If you do not have a lawyer, you must make an appearance at your arraignment. Failure to do so results in a bench warrant for your arrest. If you have obtained a lawyer, Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.160(a) allows for your attorney to enter a plea on your behalf, which means you do not have to appear in court.
3. How should I plead?
While every situation has its own uniqueness, most people plead not guilty at the arraignment. By entering this plea, the process of heading for a potential trial begins. If arrested for a minor crime, such as a suspended license or misdemeanor marijuana charge, your lawyer may suggest entering a guilty plea. This will bring a quick end to the proceedings. A plea of no contest means that you acknowledge the potential evidence against you without admitting guilt. If you enter this plea, the proceedings will continue as if you entered a guilty plea.
After the arraignment, the next steps include a discovery phase of sharing evidence, potential change of plea, the consideration of a plea bargain and the start of a trial if you do not take a plea bargain.