Individuals in New York who are arrested for the first time are often nervous during their arraignment hearings as it is usually the first time they have faced a judge in a courtroom. During an arraignment, the defendant pleads guilty or not guilty to the charges against them. The judge then enters the plea and decides whether the defendant should be released on their own recognizance, released after posting bail or remanded to custody. No witnesses are called during an arraignment hearing, and no evidence is presented. In many cases, defendants let their attorneys enter their plea for them and do not even speak during their arraignments.
The main purpose of an arraignment hearing is to determine whether the defendant should remain in custody or be released. The factors judges consider when making these decisions include:
- The nature of the crime the defendant is accused of committing
- The defendant’s prior criminal record
- The defendant’s employment status
- The defendant’s ties to the community
- The perceived threat the defendant poses to the public
- The risk that the defendant will flee the jurisdiction
Defendants who are accused of serious crimes like murder or who were apprehended while fleeing law enforcement may face high bail or remand. However, first-time offenders charged with minor crimes are usually released on their own recognizance.
When the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor offense and the facts of the case are clear, the prosecutor may make a plea offer before the arraignment hearing begins. If this offer is accepted by the defendant, the judge hands down a sentence after the plea is entered instead of setting bail. Arraignment hearings are handled briskly and rarely last more than five minutes.
The right to an attorney
Being convicted of even a minor criminal offense can cast a long shadow in a person’s life. If you are arrested and charged with a crime, you have the right to be represented by a criminal defense attorney at your arraignment. An experienced attorney may argue that you should be released on your own recognizance or your bail should be lowered. An attorney might also negotiate with the prosecutor to improve the terms of their plea offer.