A criminal arraignment is the first step in a criminal case where you have the right to have your attorney stand up and represent you in court. It is also your first official court date and will signal the beginning of a potentially long fight, depending on the severity of your charges.
If you have been arrested or charged with a crime and now face an arraignment, you should have an attorney represent you. This court appearance is just the beginning, but there are important questions you will be asked that can set your case up for success or failure. For help, contact the Baltimore lawyer for criminal arraignments at the Rice, Murtha & Psoras. Our attorney has experience representing defendants at arraignments and at each step in the process afterward. Call us today at (410) 694-7291 to schedule a free legal consultation.
What is an Arraignment in Baltimore?
An arraignment is the first court date in any criminal case. At this appearance, the judge will formally notify you of the charges against you. Up until this point, you might have been held in jail, arrested, or summoned to appear in court without knowing what charges you are facing, but after this point it should all be clear.
You will also enter a plea at your arraignment. This is when you would plead “guilty” or “not guilty” to the charges, and it is vital to discuss what route to take with your attorney to avoid walking into any issues you cannot undo that might occur because of a misunderstanding or unintentionally misleading information you heard in a TV show, from another defendant, or from police or prosecutors.
The arraignment is also the point where your right to an attorney for court proceedings attaches. This means that at every court appearance after this point, you have the right to be represented by your attorney, and they cannot usually drag you before a judge without your attorney present. Additionally, if you do not have the money to afford an attorney, this is the point where you would be able to request a public defender. In some cases, arraignments are done quickly and a public defender will be appointed to you to handle this stage of the case quickly. However, you do usually have the ability to contact an attorney of your own before the arraignment so that you can have your attorney present.
What Plea to Enter at an Arraignment in Baltimore
In most cases, you will want to enter a “not guilty” plea at your arraignment. In some cases, you might think it would make things easier to enter a guilty plea and get the case over with. You might have also heard that guilty pleas often mean a lighter sentence or that the police or prosecutors will offer you a plea deal that helps you get off on certain charges or get reduced penalties. While plea deals are often used in court in Baltimore, you have to negotiate these plea agreements with the prosecution ahead of time, and you usually gain no benefits by pleading guilty at your arraignment.
It is vital to discuss your plea with your lawyer before your arraignment. Your lawyer can help advise you on how the case will proceed and what steps will occur after you plead not guilty. Ultimately, however, it is your right to plead guilty if you want to. If you want to plead guilty for a moral or ethical reason, your lawyer cannot stop you from doing so. We can, however, caution you that it might be better to wait until we can negotiate a better plea agreement with the prosecution or discuss reduced sentencing options before you enter your plea. As soon as you plead guilty, whether at your arraignment or later in the case, a conviction is entered on the record and the case moves to sentencing.
There are also sometimes other pleas that you might be able to enter. For instance, an “Alford plea” is a plea where you admit that the government has enough evidence to convict you, but you nonetheless assert that you are factually innocent. This is somewhat similar to a “nolo contendere” plea (a.k.a., a “nolo” plea), which is a “no contest” plea that allows the government to proceed as if you are guilty. In either case, the judge will enter a conviction and move the case to sentencing as if you pled guilty, but there will be no factual admission of fault, which can be helpful if there is also a civil lawsuit being filed against you or if the facts of the case have some legal bearing on other matters outside of the issues of conviction and sentencing in this case.
Plea Agreements and Next Steps After Arraignment in Baltimore Criminal Cases
If you plead not guilty to the charges at your arraignment, you will be scheduled for your next hearing. For felony cases, that means scheduling a preliminary hearing where the court will test whether there is probable cause to continue with the charges against you. For lesser charges, the case will go straight to trial. As you approach these stages of the case, your attorney can work to negotiate the charges with the prosecution, potentially working out a deal that will reduce the charges and potential sentences you face.
Sometimes, agreements with the prosecution can allow you to seek rehabilitation, anger management, or other classes and programs instead of facing jail time. This may also include terms of community service or some other service in exchange for dropping the charges against you. Prosecutors might also allow some charges to be dropped or reduced in exchange for a guilty plea, or they might recommend lighter sentences if you are willing to give up your right to a trial and allow the case to move through the courts without the time and expense of fighting the case.
Talk to a lawyer before entering a guilty plea in any case.
Call Our Baltimore Arraignment Lawyers for a Free Case Consultation
If you are facing criminal charges and have been scheduled for an arraignment, talk to a lawyer right away. You should have a lawyer present at your arraignment to help guide you through the beginning of your case and help you determine how to plea. For a free legal consultation on your case, call the Baltimore lawyer for criminal arraignments at the Rice, Murtha & Psoras today at (410) 694-7291.