Arraignments on Misdemeanors and Felonies: A Criminal Defense Attorney’s Perspective on Being Formally Charged
What is an arraignment?
An arraignment is a formal hearing where a prosecuting attorney formally reads the charges against you or a loved one and a judge decides on release conditions. Arraignments are done day in and day out in courts all over Washington and our criminal defense lawyers | attorneys have attended literally thousands of felony and misdemeanor arraignments. We think the most important thing we can do for our clients is take the time to make sure they know all the scenarios that might happen. From our perspective, the most important things that happen at an arraignment are: (1) our clients enter a plea to the charge of Not Guilty and we argue with the prosecuting attorney about what the Conditions of Release a judge should set in our case.
From a client’s perspective, common concerns regarding arraignments are:
Can I waive an Arraignment? Everyone would like to avoid having to go to court if they can. There is a formal process whereby your lawyer can file a Notice of Appearance and Waiver of Arraignment on some types of misdemeanor | gross misdemeanor Criminal Charges; for example, in Federal Way Municipal Court, you can waive an arraignment on certain charges. Every local City and County Court has local rules that allow waivers on certain kinds of misdemeanors | gross misdemeanors. In general, arraignments cannot be waived on DUIs, cases involving domestic violence tags or cases involving weapons. For your specific charge, you will need to consultand retain one of our defense lawyers | attorneys. Felony arraignments cannot be waived.
Will I get Taken into Custody? Judges set release conditions at arraignments. Some of these conditions are simple: don’t drink, show up to all your court dates, or stay away from someone. Sometimes conditions of release are not so simple: post bail, stay away from your children or family, or turn in your passport. At arraignments, people are taken into custody for 3 reasons:
- A Judge Orders Bail. When a judge orders bail, you can be detained until bail is posted. In most cases, as we have our clients prearrange and qualify for bail, posting bail takes about 2-4 hours to post and then however long it takes the local jail to process you and release you. We have had success asking judges to give our clients 24 hours to post bail or turn themselves in, but this varies from case to case.
- You Have Not Been Processed. In felony cases (this does not apply to misdemeanors), if you have not been arrested prior to arraignment, officers will take you into custody briefly to “process you”, meaning they will take your fingerprints, photo, and information to enter into their database. This is done after the court arraignment process in every Superior Court in Washington State and can take 2-4 hours, depending on the case load, number of individuals who must be processed, staffing, etc. When dealing with this process, be patient, reasonable and polite and you will generally get out faster; annoy the officer, and you can guarantee they will take longer. That being said, if you are summoned to court for a felony charge, most, if not all, of this process can be done prior to your arraignment. This is less stressful in court and can be used to our advantage.
- You Screwed Up. This one is the easiest ones to avoid and pretty self-explanatory. If you are released from jail and violate the release conditions, allegations of further criminal conduct, harassment, or inappropriate behavior will lead right back to jail. When you are facing criminal charges, it is the time to be calm and listen to your criminal defense lawyer | attorney, and not push boundaries. It is time to reflect on how you got into trouble and make changes in your life to avoid doing it again. It is the job of your criminal defense attorney | lawyer to fight your case in and out of court, and take on the stress of the case. It is not your job to do this so be patient, talk to your lawyer and follow the release conditions.
How Do I Act, What do I Wear, and What Time Should I Show Up? Court hearings are formal proceedings, so act like you are attending a formal proceeding: be respectful and hire a lawyer you feel comfortable having represent you because they will do almost all the speaking on your behalf. If a criminal defense lawyer | attorney does their job right, clients should have to answer 2-10 yes / no questions and another court date will be set in 2-6 weeks. Unless you regularly wear a suit and tie, we recommend you wear slacks and a collared shirt with long sleeves or a blouse with long sleeves with a longer skirt or slacks. People who do not regularly wear suits and ties look uncomfortable in them and the idea is to be respectful and not bring attention to your clothing or attitude. We generally recommend clients plan on showing up 20-30 minutes early to allow for getting lost, traffic, parking and the inevitable delay at the metal detectors in every courthouse. Once you find your court, enter, sit down and our lawyers will find you. Use the extra time in court to calm yourself, observe the proceedings and DO NOT FORGET TO TURN YOUR PHONE TO VIBRATE. We ask clients to leave them on so we can text if there is an issue or emergency but judges are capable of getting exceedingly irate at people who do not read the signs about noise. Again, this is a formal proceeding so:
- Be respectful;
- Dress appropriately;
- Be punctual; and
- Turn of anything that makes noise.
The criminal defense lawyers | attorneys in our office have handled an enormous number of complicated cases in the criminal arena over the course of our criminal law careers. We are a unique blend of courtroom experience, knowledge, skills and temperament. Our lawyers know criminal cases are rarely as simple as the police reports claim and our clients hire us because they want staunch and effective counsel who takes the time to make sure their rights are protected. Whether our role is as legal counsel, negotiator, or litigator, we have years of experience fighting and resolving criminal cases with our clients’ best interests in mind.