If you are facing a charge for a felony or misdemeanor crime, one of the first steps in the legal process will be the Arraignment. Most defendants are unsure whether or not they need a criminal defense attorney for the Arraignment. In fact, what to expect at the Arraignment is one of the most frequent questions that we receive from our clients.
As experienced criminal defense lawyers, we know the South Florida courts, and we know everything that goes along with an Arraignment hearing, so we've put together this helpful guide for everything you need to know about Arraignments in South Florida.
What is an Arraignment?
The Arraignment is the first stage in a criminal proceeding after First Appearance. At Arraignment, the defendant is advised of the charges brought by the prosecutor or the state attorney's office. For example, a defendant who is arrested for DUI may be formally charged by a prosecutor. The charging document is called an “Information.” At Arraignment, the judge will read the charges contained in the Information to the defendant.
What are the defendant's choices at Arraignment?
The defendant may either enter a plea of guilty or a plea of not guilty to the charges. Additionally, the prosecutor or defense attorney may request a reset or continuance of the Arraignment to a later date. This is commonly done in Palm Beach County on first offender DUI charges.
What happens if I do not go to Arraignment?
A defendant must appear at Arraignment if he or she has not hired a lawyer. Failing to show up for court will result in a bench warrant for the defendant's arrest. A defendant represented by an attorney generally does not need to appear in court. It is common for an attorney, pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.160(a), to file a written plea of not guilty with the court on behalf of their client. The next court date after Arraignment is called Case Disposition. Case Disposition occurs approximately thirty days after Arraignment.
Should I plea guilty or not guilty at Arraignment?
This depends on merits of your defense and the charges brought by the state against you. It is common for minor crimes (Possession of Marijuana, Driving on a Suspended License, Petit Theft) to be resolved at Arraignment through a guilty plea or admission to a diversion program. However, a defendant would never enter a guilty plea to a felony charge at Arraignment. This is because felony convictions are extremely serious. A criminal defense attorney needs time to investigate the facts of the case and prepare a defense to the charges through witness depositions and motions to suppress evidence.
What happens if the prosecutor does not file charges against me?
A prosecutor would file a “No Information.” This is a document that tells the court there is insufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. A prosecutor can still choose to file charges in the future. Additionally, a prosecutor must file charges within 30 days from when a defendant in custody is arrested. A defendant may be released on his own recognizance if charges are not brought within 33 days of the arrest. For more information, see Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure, 3.134, Time for Formal Filing.
What is a Notice to Appear?
A Notice to Appear (NTA) is a document given by a police officer to defendant in lieu of an arrest. The Notice to Appear provides the defendant with a court date. This court date is the Arraignment. It is common for police to issue a NTA to a defendant who is charged with a minor crime such as Shoplifting or Possession of Marijuana.
Should I retain a lawyer before Arraignment?
Yes, typically a lawyer will be able to speak to the prosecutor prior to Arraignment. The defense attorney may be able to present favorable information to the prosecutor. This information could result in the prosecutor not filing charges against you. It's important to take every step possible to avoid a guilty charge that could stay on your record forever.
Where do Arraignments take place in South Florida?
Arraignments can take place in all of the South Florida courthouses, but there is only one main courthouse in West Palm Beach. If your arraignment hearing is scheduled for the West Palm Beach courthouse, follow these directions to get there:
- From I-95, exit onto Okeechobee Boulevard and head east. Stay in the right lane.
- Go 3/4 mile to the second ramp on right, Australian Avenue North.
- Take the Australian Avenue North ramp. Go 1 mile north on Australian Avenue to Banyan Blvd.
- Turn right on Banyan Blvd. and continue east for 4 blocks.
- The courthouse will be on the left.
Satellite courthouses where arraignments may also be held are: Delray Beach (South County Courthouse), Gun Club Rd (West Palm Beach), Palm Beach Gardens (North County Courthouse) and Belle Glade.
Contact an Arraignment Lawyer near me
The Arraignment presents one of the first defense opportunities in the legal process. You don't need to go through this process alone – as Delray Beach-based criminal defense attorneys, we are committed to doing everything possible to keep you out of jail and get the charges dismissed. We understand a criminal charge can change your life in an instant, and we have the experience and determination to fight for every single advantage at every possible moment in your case. Contact the South Florida defense attorneys at Bottari & Doyle today for a free case review.