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Arraignment - The First Court Appearance

State Bar Of California | California Board Of Legal Specialization California State Bar
Certified Criminal Law Specialist

This is the stage where the court takes over and law enforcement steps back. As such, this is the first time an "objective" party (the judge) will review the case. Given this fact, it is natural for many non-lawyers to want to explain themselves to the judge and tell them everything. You should resist this urge for two reasons:

1. The judge isn't going to help you. Unlike T.V. judges, real superior court judges almost never make findings of guilt or innocence (they leave that job to the jury).
2. Like the police (hopefully) told you- "Anything you say can and will be used against you..."

Instead, the arraignment serves the limited formal purpose of beginning the court case by allowing the defendant to plead guilty or not guilty, and serving as the first opportunity for settlement (plea-bargaining).

What to expect at the arraignment:

  • The judge will call the case by your first and last name and the assigned case number (IE "Calling the case of John Doe, case number VCF972057"). At this point you (and your attorney, if you have one) will stand before the judge at one table and a Deputy District Attorney may or may not be present at the other table.
  • The judge will ask you if you have a defense attorney, if you want a defense attorney, and if you have money with which to hire a defense attorney.
  • The judge will ask you to plead either guilty or not-guilty.
  • If you are in jail and a request is made the judge may reduce bail or release you pending trial (called Release on your own Recognisance or "O.R."). On the other hand, the District Attorney may bring a motion to increase your bail if they believe your case is especially bad.
  • The court will then set the next date for proceedings in the case.
    • If your case is a felony the next date will probably be the  Preliminary Hearing
    • If your case is a misdemeanor the next date will probably be the  trial date
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