Arraignment .org
Judge's Gavel
The Right to Counsel During Arraignment
The Right to Counsel One of the unique aspects of arraignment is the court's procedure for making sure a defendant has legal representation. As one of the basic principles under U.S. constitutional law, the right to representation is consistently protected by the court process. Under criminal law especially, a defendant facing a loss of freedom due to criminal charges must have an advocate who understands how the law works. This counsel is then under a duty to make sure the defendant understands all the legal proceedings involved in a case and the ramifications. Defendants, if they can afford one, can use their own hired attorney. For those who don't have such financial resources, a court-appointed defense attorney is provided. Defense attorneys can either be on hire to the local court or work for a public defender office. While all such attorneys have passed their state attorney bar for licensing and have the technical skill to defend a party, they are far from the best legal defense in many cases. A large number of court-appointed attorneys are young, new to litigation, and work multiple cases regularly with little time to focus heavily on each one. They are out- resourced by prosecutor's offices who have the assistance of law enforcement and multiple attorney staff to pull their cases together. Due to this inherent imbalance, defendants tend to get less than stellar representation in criminal court proceedings, and many opt for pushing the defendant to plea bargaining and settlement with a smaller sentence rather than going to full trial and losing entirely. Post Arraignment on Small Crimes After the arraignment hearing itself, the parties wait for motions and hearings and ultimately for cases to go to trial. As noted earlier, if a guilty plea is entered the court can go to evidence quickly. In minor crime and misdemeanor cases the court can deal with the issue disposition and final sentence in the same hearing as the arraignment. The judge will declare the guilty plea and sentence for the record and the sentence, typically involving a monetary fine and/or community service. For simple fines the defendant then leaves the court and pays the fine immediately to the court clerk's office. Larger issues cannot go through this process and require a formal sentencing hearing, particularly if they involve some sort of incarceration. The most basic form of arraignment can be experienced by those who have traffic tickets or fines. The ticket usually allows the defendant to just pay the charge by mail, eliminating the need for a hearing. However, if a defendant truly believes that the ticket was unfair, he or she can appear at a traffic court or penalty hearing to make a case. If the case is strong enough, and the commissioner hearing the case agrees, the ticket or fine could be thrown out. Most people opt to just pay the ticket or fine charge since it generally seems like less effort and trouble overall. Summary Again, while the arraignment hearing seems like a formal but meaningless ceremony to the layman, it serves a number of constitutional protections required for all criminal proceeding defendants, regardless of the issue or how serious the charges. Understanding what this actually means helps a defendant make one of the most important choices when charged with a crime: do I continue to fight and try to prove my innocence or do I accept the charge and take what fate offers as a punishment? For the court system and prosecution, the arraignment hearing is a validation of their function in a fair system that ensures due process. The process sets the U.S. court system apart from lesser systems as a result; it makes the difference between a court of law and a puppet kangaroo court.