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Court can be a scary and overwhelming experience. No matter how you arrive in court, whether released from the police station the night before or brought by the police in the morning, your first appearance in front of the judge is called an Arraignment. This blog entry will discuss what happens during your Arraignment and why.

At your Arraignment, four things will happen.

First, the court will enter a plea of "not guilty" for you ("on your behalf" as the clerk or judge will say).  This is just a way for the court to ensure that you are presumed innocent until proven guilty - just like the rights heard all the time on TV. Just like those warnings, however, anything you say at this time can be used against you - and, even more dangerously, it is recorded. So unless your lawyer says to talk, or you are asked a specific question by the judge, don't talk!

Second, if you have hired a lawyer, he or she will "file an appearance," which tells the court they are your lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, at this point the court will appoint a public defender to represent you.

Third, the question of bail will be discussed. The Courts use bail to ensure that you will return. If you do not come in for your next court date you "default," a warrant issues for your arrest, and you lose your bail money. In many cases, the District Attorney will agree to release you "on your personal recognizance" which means that they and the judge trust you to return to court. If the District Attorney is asking for bail, at this point your attorney will argue for you. I will discuss bail arguments in a future blog post.

Finally, the court will set the date for the "pre-trial conference" which is your first date to come back to court.


At this point, you should be sure you know when you are due back to court so you do not default, and you should set a time to speak with your lawyer about the case.

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