After the arrest, booking, and initial bail phases of the criminal process, the first stage of courtroom-based proceedings takes place -- arraignment. During a typical arraignment, a person charged with a crime is called before a criminal court judge, who:
- Reads the criminal charge(s) against the person (now called the "defendant");
- Asks the defendant if he or she has an attorney, or needs the assistance of a court-appointed attorney;
- Asks the defendant how he or she answers, or "pleads to", the criminal charges -- "guilty," "not guilty," or "no contest";
- Decides whether to alter the bail amount or to release the defendant on his or her own recognizance (Note: These matters are usually revisited even if addressed in prior proceedings); and
- Announces dates of future proceedings in the case, such as the preliminary hearing, pre-trial motions, and trial.
Also at the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor will give the defendant and his or her attorney copies of police reports and any other documents relevant to the case. For example, in a DUI/DWI or drug possession case, the prosecutor may provide the defense with lab reports of any blood or chemical tests that were performed, and may be used in the case.
The Right to Counsel
If a criminal defendant faces the possibility of jail time if convicted for the crime(s) charged, the defendant has a constitutional right to the assistance of an attorney, or "counsel." If the defendant wishes to be represented by an attorney but cannot afford to hire one, a government-appointed attorney will be assigned at no cost to the defendant. Usually employed as "public defenders", these government-appointed defense attorneys are responsible for zealously protecting a criminal defendant's rights at all stages of the criminal process. To learn more about the right to counsel, go here.