Understanding Criminal Procedure and Arraignments in California

When a person is arrested in California, they have a right to know what the charges are against them. They also have a right to plead guilty or not guilty. This all happens at the arraignment. It can be a particularly nerve-wrecking time for anyone, even those who have been previously charged with criminal activity.

Knowing what to expect can help relieve some anxiety. At  The Law Offices of Vivian N. Szawarc, our criminal defense attorney will inform you of the process and your rights. We believe informed clients make the best decisions for themselves. Contact us at 888-666-8820 to schedule a free initial consultation and get the help you need to get the best outcome in your unique situation.


Arraignment Process in California

An arraignment is your initial appearance in open court. Its purpose is to advise the defendant of their right to know the charges against them, as such, the judge formally reads the charge or charges to a defendant and asks the defendant how they wish to plead.

Timing of the Arraignment

A defendant cannot be held indefinitely without knowing what the charges are against them. They must be allowed to seek release from custody, if possible. An initial appearance, therefore, usually occurs within a reasonable time of the defendant being arrested and charged, even though the precise timing of arraignment varies. Arraigning the defendant at an early stage ensures:

Their case is progressing; and

They are not spending more time in custody than necessary.

Summary of an Arraignment

The specific procedures and rules for arraignment vary among jurisdictions. In addition to reading the charges and taking the defendant's plea, a court may also read out the substance of the charges, confirm that the defendant understands them, and inform the defendant of their relevant constitutional rights, like their right to a court-appointed lawyer.

The judge may also decide on bail and schedule a court hearing on it. Depending on how the person pleads, the judge may also schedule a sentencing hearing, pretrial conference, and/or a trial.

The Right to Waive personal presence at

You also have the right to waive your presence at the arraignment or the Judge's reading of your rights. You can waive your presence (i.e. not have to go to court) if you have an criminal defense attorney to appear on your behalf. This can be done in most misdemeanors. You can also waive the Judge's reading of your rights; this is not in your best interests, however, unless you have hired a criminal defense attorney who will explain your rights to you, and has successfully negotiated terms of release with the prosecutor before the arraignment. This often happens when the charges are less serious.

Arraignment versus Indictment in California

Sometimes there is confusion regarding an arraignment or an indictment.  An arraignment is different from an indictment. An arraignment is an opportunity for a defendant to hear the charges against them and enter a plea. An indictment is a legal document formally charging a defendant with a crime, and it is only used in felony cases.

A defendant can be charged by filing a complaint (misdemeanors and felonies) or by an indictment issued after the prosecutor presents the required evidence to a grand jury. . Only the District Attorney has authority to decide if charges will be filed or not. Once a defendant has been charged, their case proceeds to an arraignment hearing.

A grand jury is a group of impartial, randomly selected citizens who hear from the prosecution and witnesses. Then, they decide whether sufficient evidence exists for the defendant to be charged.

Understanding Pleas at an Arraignment in California

When a judge asks a defendant how they plead to a charge during an arraignment hearing, a defendant can enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. A guilty plea indicates the defendant accepts the charges and allegations. By entering a guilty plea, the matter will proceed to sentence either immediately after the arraignment or at a later date.

A not-guilty plea indicates the defendant is contesting the charges and allegations and the matter will proceed to the next step, which in felonies is usually a preliminary hearing. Pleading not guilty is advised because it offers you the only opportunity you will have to either (1) negotiate a plea deal; or (2) fight the charges against you. Remember: the State of California must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty, and that is a high bar to achieve. Our criminal defense attorney will fight for you, and if a plea deal is in your best interest, we make sure the terms are as favorable as possible.  

A no-contest plea indicates the defendant is accepting a conviction for the charge but not admitting guilt. Like a guilty plea, the matter will proceed to sentence either immediately after arraignment or at a later date.

Will I Be Released or Taken into Custody?

The judge decides whether a defendant is released on their own recognizance (i.e. released without bail), is released after granting bail, or is taken into custody.

To be released on your own recognizance, the following two factors must exist:

You are not a flight risk meaning the Judge thinks you will attend your court dates; and

You pose no risk to others.

To be released on bail, the judge will consider the following factors among others:

Whether you have family ties in the area

What your ability and resources are to flee the city, state, or even the country

What danger, if any, you pose to the community

Your criminal record

When released either on your own recognizance or by bail, the judge can set certain terms and conditions of the release. If you violate the conditions, you can be taken into custody.

Some defendants after the arraignment may be immediately taken into custody. This does not automatically mean you will not be released. You are entitled to a bail hearing where you can challenge the judge's decision.

In any of the scenarios, it is always best to have a competent, committed criminal defense representing your interests. At Law Offices of Vivian N. Szawarc, our criminal defense lawyer works to effect an outcome best for all our clients. We have the skill, knowledge, and resources to negotiate, strategize, and argue successfully in your defense.

Do You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer for an Arraignment in California ?

You're not legally required to have a lawyer represent you at an arraignment hearing. However, it's worthwhile speaking to an attorney before your arraignment so you can obtain advice relevant to your case and the options available to you. Engaging an attorney at this early stage also allows them to start preparing for your trial.

That said, it is in your best interests to be represented by an attorney. Going before a judge in open court is stressful. It is at the arraignment that you realize the gravity of what you face. A lawyer by your side will ensure your rights are upheld and advise you on what to say to the judge so that you do not prejudice your case.

Plus, if you seek release, a judge may set harsh conditions for your release. An attorney can persuade a judge to set different, more favorable terms.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Los Angeles Today

An arraignment can be scary for many people, especially if it is your first time before a judge in open court. All eyes will be on you when the charges against you are read. Not only is a criminal defense attorney a smart tactical move on your part, but it is also a comforting one. Knowing that someone has your best interests in mind will help you throughout the course of the arraignment and your criminal case.

Contact Law Offices of Vivian N. Szawarc today either by filling out the online form or calling us at 888-666-8820 to schedule a free initial consultation. We are here to help you get through the criminal system as best as possible.

Contact An Experienced Criminal Defense  Lawyer Today

The Law Offices of Vivian N. Szawarc represents clients who have immigrated to the United States from all over the world, and our goal is to keep your life running smoothly for as long as you would like to remain in this country. Call us or fill out our online contact

Contact An Experienced Immigration Lawyer Today

The Law Offices of Vivian N. Szawarc represents clients who have immigrated to the United States from all over the world, and our goal is to keep your life running smoothly for as long as you would like to remain in this country. Call us or fill out our online contact form.