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Arraignment Process in Los Angeles County Criminal Courts


A lot of people don’t totally understand what an arraignment is and what significance it plays in a criminal case in LA.  I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years.  I’ve done thousands of arraignments on the criminal cases I’ve represented for my clients.  Really, the arraignment is kind of the first official appearance in court for a criminal defendant and a lot of different things can be done.

First, before the arraignment, it’s important for you and the client to get together and talk about the case and get a strategy together depending on what court you’re in so the attorney knows exactly what they’re going to do at the arraignment.  One thing you can do is continue the arraignment.  Basically, you’re putting off entering a plea — a not-guilty plea, a guilty plea or a no-contest plea — and you’re going to review everything and you’re going to talk to your client and when you come back for the next court date, then you can decide what to do at the arraignment.  Some courts will let you do that; some courts won’t let you do that.  You’ve got to decide strategically if that makes sense for your client based on the circumstances of their case.

I’ve had some cases where it’s questionable whether my client was sane at the time of the alleged crime.  In that circumstance, I’m going to continue the arraignment.  I want to have my client evaluated before we enter any plea because we may enter not-guilty by reason of insanity.  There’s all kinds of different tangents you can go off depending on exactly what happened in the case, where your client stands and what your strategy is going to be.

Setting Bail

Also, at the arraignment, the judge is typically going to set bail.  So, the judge could release the defendant on their own recognizance, the judge could make them put a scram bracelet on their ankle so they can’t drink any alcohol.  The judge can do all sorts of different things, depending on what the circumstances of the case are.  But if the judge sets a bail and the client has already posted that bail, then the client will get to go home and that will be the end of it.  But if the judge sets a bail and the client hasn’t posted a bail or a judge sets a bail that’s higher than what the client’s posted, that client’s going into custody.  So, you need to know that in advance of the arraignment.

What I do in those circumstances, I’ve got a bail bondsman in court, so if the judge sets a bail and the client doesn’t have a bail, they were released on their own recognizance, then we’ll have the bail bondsman.  We’ll ask the judge if the client can wait in the court while the bondsman posts the bail, then the client is not inconvenienced, not taken away and not put in jail while they’re waiting to get out from the bail bondsman.  So, that’s one big thing that happens at the arraignment.  The judge will set the bail in the case.

Own Recognizance Release

Also, there can be an argue that the defendant should be released on their own recognizance.  That’s when the court basically releases them on a promise from them to appear.  They don’t have to pay any money.  They don’t need a bail bondsman and sometimes that can just be done free and clear and the person is on their way.  They just have to make sure they show up at the next court appearance.   Other times like in DUI cases, sometimes the judge will say, I will release your client on their own recognizance, but because they had a high blood alcohol level, I want them to do one AA meeting a day while they’re out, to remind them not to drink and remind them not to drink and drive.  So, there’s all sorts of angles and things that can happen.

Enter a Plea

Also, at the arraignment, you’re typically going to enter your plea.  So, if you enter a not-guilty plea, you’re going to be sent out of the arraignment court into one of the preliminary hearing courts if it’s a felony, into one of the trial courts if it’s a misdemeanor.  So, you have to bear that in mind — make sure that fits in your strategy to best represent your client and if it does, you enter the not-guilty plea and move on.

Sometimes you don’t want to enter a not-guilty plea.  Some of the arraignment courts actually do early disposition programs in that court, so you wouldn’t want to move yourself out of there.  You’d want to stay there if that’s your wish to try and negotiate with the prosecutors and see if you can get something that you think is fair for your client as a criminal defense attorney.

There’s all sorts of stuff going on at the arraignment.  Sometimes the prosecutors will give the offer to settle the case at the arraignment.  I’ve even seen cases resolved at the arraignment.  All of it is strategic.  All of it has to do with being prepared coming into the arraignment process with a game plan in mind and then executing that plan so that your client ends up with the best possible result.

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Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ.

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