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Arraignment is a very old tradition in criminal law history. Instead of being held without benefit of charges, legal counsel or other legal benefits until trial, as is still practiced in some countries even today, the advantage of being brought before a judge and hearing the formal charges the state intends to try one on has distinct advantages. If one knows the charges, one can begin to prepare a defense.
In this country, people who cannot afford legal counsel may have such counsel appointed to defend them at state expense. This appointment of legal counsel usually comes at or just before arraignment. It is at this same arraignment that a defendant may enter a plea to the charges. This plea is usually "guilty" or "not guilty" and occasionally a plea of "no contest" may be entered, however for the purpose of a DUI such a plea seldom offers much advantage under current law. There are special circumstances under which such a "no contest" plea may be valuable to certain people in certain professions.
The formal process involves a judge or magistrate, a prosecutor, court reporter, a defendant and a clerk of court. The prosecutor prepares a document called an "accusation" and as the case is "called" the, parties walk up to the judge, who is usually on a trial bench. If formal reading of the accusation is not waived by the defendant or the defendant's lawyer, the judge, or someone at his direction, will read the charges out loud so the defendant can hear the reading. The defendant then answers to the charges by entering an appropriate plea as indicated above. That plea is noted in writing on the accusation and the defendant and the lawyer sign the same document to acknowledge the plea that has been entered.
These proceedings are usually taken down by a court reporter, but in lower courts these notations may be entered on the records of the court by the clerk or the judge presiding over the arraignment. The clerk is an official witness to all court proceeding and may receive at this arraignment papers the defense lawyer should file in the form of several important motion and demands.
Included in these important motions might be a Demand for Jury Trial. This will be particularly true in certain areas. There are several different types of "criminal discovery motions" filed, where your lawyer will try to find out what the state's evidence against the client might be. Other motions will include suppression motions if the lawyer believed that some evidence my have been acquired by the state by some unlawful means. The number and type of motions is too numerous to mention and limited only by the lawyer's skill and imagination.
If this arraignment is held in one of the lower courts, it will be transferred to the appropriate court. This usually involves some delay in the progress of the case. This delay may or may not work to the client's advantage.
In reality, most of these arraignments are much more informal. However, understand the process described above is still going on. Having arranged for a lawyer well in advance is much to be preferred, so that no excuses need be made for preparing these important motions and demands just mentioned. If they are not filed, they may be considered waived by the defendant who probably didn't even know that such motions were supposed to be filed at or before this proceeding.
Often, if the defendant is still incarcerated, arraignment may offer a time to discuss with the court a bond for the defendant's release. In some lower courts, the defendant may be arraigned and tried immediately thereafter. This is especially true if the plea offered by the defendant is guilty of the court accepts a plea of no contest. In such instance, the court will go through a question and answer session with the defendant to make sure an understanding of the consequences of such a plea can have. If the accused is represented by a lawyer, issues involving the attorney-client relationship may be addressed by the judge. The voluntariness of the defendant's decision to plead guilty is usually inquired into and the range of sentencing possibilities is discussed with the defendant before the court accepts the plea. Seeing that properly done, the judge will pass sentence on the defendant. Sentencing practices, limits and such matters are discussed more fully in another section of this site.
If the plea is "Not Guilty" and the defendant is already on bond and has no other business with the court, he may be released to leave the courtroom and return to his personal business. Many times the defendant's lawyer will remain to take care of other court business. It will be important for the defendant to stay in close touch with the lawyer.