What is Arraignment?
Arraignment is a hearing where the accused defendant is formally read the criminal charges and possible penalties, as well as their rights under Nebraska law and under the U.S. Constitution. Nebraska law on arraignment is found in Nebraska Revised Statute 29-1816. In Nebraska, if you are under 18 when the alleged crime was committed, the judge must tell you that you may have the right to move the charges from the county court or district court to a juvenile court within 30 days after the arraignment. However, this does not apply if your case was originally transferred from a juvenile court.
What Happens Before Arraignment?
Depending on the charges the defendant is facing, the exact process may vary before arraignment. In Nebraska, if the charge is a criminal misdemeanor and you are an adult defendant, then before the arraignment you either have been arrested and attended a bond hearing, or you have been given a citation.
If a citation was issued, it tells what law (whether it is a city ordinance or a state law) you are accused of violating. It also indicates the location, time, and date of the first court hearing in the matter.
If you were arrested, you should have an opportunity to request bond before a judge. Nebraska statute 29-901(3) allows the judge to consider all methods of bond and conditions of release to avoid pretrial incarceration. The law makers know the local jails can be overly crowed, and keeping accused in jail does not help their cases. However, depending on the criminal charge, and other factors of the case and characteristics of the defendant, the prosecutor may request no bail be allowed at all. Some of the possible reasons include: you have previously skipped court appearances or hearings before; there is no assurance that you will show up in the next hearing because they have no ties to the state of Nebraska; the prosecutor has reason to argue that the defendant is a danger to yourself and/or others; Or you were arrested because of a warrant; or there may be holds on you by different law enforcement agencies for other reasons. Read here for more details about the bond process.
Before your arraignment, you should consult with your attorney and inquire about how to defend your case. In some serious cases, there are a number of things may need or can be done before the arraignment and if you miss this window of opportunity, you may not get another chance. For example, if you believe the law the prosecutor alleged you violated is unconstitutional, you must file a motion to quash before your entry of plea during arraignment. If you are facing a felony charge, you will likely have to go through a preliminary hearing (see Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-506) in the county court, where the county court judge has to determine whether there is probable cause that the alleged crime or crimes have been committed. Often times, this hearing is waived by the defendant because the result is a foregone conclusion, making the hearing a formality and/or waiving the appearance may get the documents from the prosecutor faster.
Once the county court judge finds there is probably cause, or you have waived the preliminary hearing, you will be sent over to the district court to be arraigned. Thus, if you are facing a felony charge and have gone through the preliminary hearing, before your arraignment in the district court, you may file a Plea in Abatement (see Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-1809 et seq. This is a challenge to the county court judge’s finding. If you can successfully challenge it, your charges will be dismissed. However, this does not prevent the prosecutor will refile the charges later when they have strengthened their arguments or their evidence.
What Happens in Arraignment?
During the arraignment, your case will be called by the judge or the prosecutor. The judge is supposed to read your constitutional rights that may include the following:
You have a right to a trial and jury jail if you are facing jail time.
You are innocent until proven guilty.
The government has to prove beyond a reasonable double that you committed the crime.
You have a right to confront the government’s witnesses.
You have a right to present your own evidence and witnesses.
You have a right to remain silent and the government cannot use your silence against you.
You have a right to a speedy trial, completed in six months from the date of the filing of the complaint.
You have a right to appeal if you are found guilty.
If you were not 18 at the time of the alleged crime, you can ask your case be transferred to a juvenile court.
You have a right to hire your own lawyer. If you are facing jail time and you cannot afford one, the court will appoint one for you at no cost to you.
You can waive your right to counsel and proceed without a lawyer.
If you are not a U.S. citizen, a conviction of certain offense may result in your deportation or denial of your immigration benefits.
Some judges will read these rights and maybe other rights or warnings before they start all the cases. During your case, they may ask you if you were present when they read those rights and whether you understood them. Some judges may read these statements during each case.
Once you have been advised of your rights, the judge will see whether you have a lawyer present with you. If you do not have a lawyer, and you are facing jail time, and you do not waive your right to a lawyer, the judge will then appoint a lawyer, usually from the Public Defender’s office, and reschedule the arraignment. Or sometimes, the judge automatically enters a not guilty plea and then appoint a public defender for you. In order to receive a public defender, you will need to complete a financial statement and list all of your assets and income.
Sometimes, judges may go into detail and advise you of your options during the arraignment. They may say, you have the right to enter 3 pleas to your charge today: a not guilty plea, a guilty plea, or a no contest plea or nolo contendere plea.
If you plead guilty during arraignment, you may give up your rights to challenge the criminal charges. If you do not speak or fully understand English, arraignment is also a good time to tell the judge that you need an interpreter. The court may appoint an interpreter to assist with your court hearing at no cost to you. However, interpreters are not lawyers and they can only translate what is said in court. They cannot help you understand or interpret the law, or give you advice on what you should do in your case. They are just there to interpreter what is spoken into your native language.
Another option you may have is to simply remain silent. The judge may take your silence as a not guilty plea.
What Happens After Arraignment?
What happens after the arraignment depends on what you did during arraignment. If you plead not guilty, your case will be scheduled for trial before the judge (a “bench” trial) or by jury. You should speak with your lawyer about what option is best for you. Your lawyer may file pre-trial motions to help you with your case and discover what evidence the prosecutor has against you. This is an important part of the pre-trial process and will help you get more information about what choices may make sense in your case.
On the other hand, if you have entered a guilty plea or a plea of no contest, depending on the charges, the judge may issue you a fine to pay. The judge may also place you on probation, and you maybe required to pay for the probation cost and court costs. However, you can ask the judge to reduce the probation fee if you can show that paying the original amount of fee will place you with undue burden. If you plea guilty to a charge that may carry jail sentence, the judge may schedule a presentencing investigation about the facts and then have a sentencing hearing. Some judge’s allow defendants to schedule a turn-in date when they will be taken into custody to serve their sentence, while some judges require that defendants are immediately taken into custody at the hearing. Ask your lawyer which is likely to be the case so that you can plan ahead and put your affairs in order before serving any sentence. Additionally, If there were damages to person or property, you may be responsible to pay for such damages caused by you.
Who Goes to Arraignment?
The defendant must appear before a judge during arraignment. You may or may not have a lawyer during arraignment. You should expect the prosecutor will show up at your arraignment. Sometimes, if you are in jail, you maybe go to arraignment through an electronic device or online video conference. In that case, a video feed of the courtroom is usually all you can see as a defendant. Sometimes, your lawyer may prepare and file documents to waive your arraignment and you do not have to show up at all.
Where is Arraignment?
Arraignment generally happens at a local county or district courthouse. If you have been arrested, the jail guards may transport you to the local courthouse. If you were simply given a citation and not incarcerated, the location for the arraignment would be shown in your citation. Sometimes, arraignment may be done via online video conference. If you were incarcerated and not released, you might be attending arraignment at the jail where you were staying and electronic devices will be set up for you to see, hear, and speak.
When is Arraignment?
Arraignment generally happens shortly after your complaint has been officially filed. If you received a citation, the citation should tell you when your arraignment or initial appearance will be. If you were arrested and posted bail, at the time you were released, you would receive information about your arraignment date and time. You should speak with a lawyer if you are unclear what your initial court appearance is for or when your arraignment is.
Preparation for Arraignment
You should be prepared. If you plan to file any motions before or during the arraignment, you should be prepared to present your evidence during your arraignment hearing. Sometimes, Motions to Quash and Plea in Abatement are heard during arraignment. Because it is not the judge’s job or the prosecutor’s job to advise you on your case, you should consult with a lawyer before your arraignment hearing. Judges are supposed to read your rights but you should not count on it because they may read some of them, or few of them. They may read them to fast or too quietly. They may use legal words that you do not understand like nolo contendere, or not explain what speedy trial means.
You should dress formally to be respectful and to leave a good impression. You should consult with your lawyer and ask if an interpreter is needed.
Types of Pleas During Arraignment
Guilty Plea, Not Guilty Plea, No Contest Plea, Remain Silent = Not Guilty Plea, Not Guilty Plea by reason of insanity.