An arraignment is the time in a criminal proceeding when the charges are read and you have an opportunity to plead guilty, no contest, or not guilty. The purpose of the following information is to go over a few matters such as your rights, what type of charges are possible and how things work in court.
When you are charged with a criminal offense, you have the right to remain silent and to be presumed not guilty. You have the right to plead not guilty and proceed to trial. If your matter is eligible for a jury trial, the judge will inform you of that when he calls you forward. It is the burden of the State to prove you are quilty – you are presumed to be innocent. At the trial you would have the right to confront and cross examine all of the state’s witnesses. You have the ability to subpoena and call your own witnesses and to testify in your own behalf.
Additionally, you have the right to be represented at all proceedings by an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, you can fill out a request for a public defender. That request would be reviewed and a determination made by the judge whether or not you qualify for a public defender. A public defender is an attorney appointed by the court to represent you when you are unable to afford to hire your own attorney. A public defender would be appointed at little or no cost to you. Even if you are indigent, in certain cases, you may not be allowed to have a public defender if the charge has no mandatory jail time upon conviction.
Misdemeanors come in three categories; class one, class two, and class three. The class one misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of $2,500.00, six months in jail, and three years probation. Driving under the influence has a maximum probation of five years. All fines have an 84% surcharge added on plus $10.00. A class two misdemeanor has a maximum penalty of $750.00, four months in jail, and two years probation. A class three misdemeanor has a maximum penalty of $500.00, 30 days in jail, and one year probation. In most cases, no matter what class of misdemeanor we are dealing with, the minimum penalty is a suspended sentence. The charges may be dismissed.
When you come to court and the judge calls you up to the bench, he will read the charges and explain what they mean. At that time, he will also inform you what class misdemeanor it is. Certain charges have what are known as mandatory minimum penalties. That means if you plead guilty or no contest, or are found guilty, there is a minimum penalty described in the statute. For example, if you are convicted of driving under the influence, you must pay a mandatory minimum fine of $1,470.00, serve 24 hours in jail, pay for and successfully complete alcohol screening/treatment, and install an interlock device. If your particular case does have a mandatory minimum penalty, the judge will tell you that when you go up to the bench.
Procedurally, when a plea of not guilty is entered, you will get a pretrial conference date. That is a date where you meet with a prosecutor to exchange discovery and see if the matter can be settled without going to trial. Be advised, however, the person you are dealing with is an attorney that represents the State of Arizona. If you are representing yourself, the prosecutor is not there to give you advice or tell you what is in your best interest; you have to make that determination on your own.
Also be advised you must appear at all court proceedings. Failure to appear would result in a number of things. There would be a warrant for your arrest and a new charge of failure to appear would be filed, which is a misdemeanor. And finally, if any of the matters are traffic related, the Department of Motor Vehicles will be notified and your license will be suspended.
If you enter a plea of not guilty, you will be given your court date in writing. Again, you must appear at that date and time.
If you plead guilty or no contest, you will be giving up the constitutional rights described earlier, including the right to be represented by an attorney. In most cases, if you plead guilty or no contest that day, and the court accepts the plea, you will be sentenced and that will terminate the matter.
In certain cases, however, where there is a victim or possible restitution, for example, the entry of your plea would be deferred and you would need to come back for the entry of judgment and sentencing. State law provides that a victim has a right to be heard at all court proceedings. State law also provides that individuals who have sustained economic damage as a result of criminal activity have a right to compensation. You would be given the date to appear for entry of judgment and sentencing in writing and would need to appear on that day.
NOTE: If you are not a citizen of the United States, pleading guilty or no contest to a crime or being found guilty of a crime, whether by submission or by trial, may affect your immigration status. Admitting guilt or being found guilty may result in deportation even if the charge is later dismissed. Your plea or admission of guilt, or being found guilty, could result in your deportation or removal, prevent you from ever being able to get legal status in the United States, or prevent you from becoming a United States citizen.