The arraignment is normally your first court appearance. It is sometimes done via video if you are in jail. Most courts will have you watch a brief videotape, which will explain the potential penalties you are facing as well as your rights. It will also explain the various pleas that can be entered.
Prosecutors seldom appear at arraignments. Never discuss the facts of your case with anyone at the arraignment.
It is unwise to enter a plea of guilty (or no contest) at this time and throw yourself upon the mercy of the court without knowing what sentence the judge or magistrate will give you.
Your appearance before the judge will be brief. The judge will read the charges to you and ask you how you want to plead. The judge may also address the issue of bond. The main concern of the judge is whether or not you will appear for future court appearances. Where you live, where you work, and whether you have ever missed a court appearance in the past are factors the judge will consider.
After your arraignment, most courts schedule your case for a pretrial conference. Generally, this is where your criminal defense lawyer discusses the resolution of your case with the prosecuting attorney. The judge is normally not involved in the case at a pretrial conference.
Sometimes this stage will be skipped, and the case will be immediately set for Trial. This usually happens when you don’t sign a time waiver.
Some cases then proceed to a Motion Hearing (such as a Motion to Suppress, etc…), where your attorney challenges the evidence other issues resolved. Filing motions on your own, without the assistance of a lawyer, is a recipe for disaster. Non-lawyers have no chance of overcoming the legal knowledge of the prosecuting attorney.
Ultimately, the case may be set for a Trial, either to Judge or to Jury. In misdemeanor cases, a demand for a jury trial must be filed timely to preserve that right. Otherwise, the right to a trial by jury is forfeited.
If you choose to resolve your case by accepting an offer, the case will be scheduled for a Plea or Sentencing Hearing, when the Judge will decide the penalties.
In some cases, the judge will refer you for a pre-sentence investigation before sentencing.
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