After a suspect’s arrest, the criminal court process begins. A criminal defendant may attend a few or many hearings between arrest and trial. At trial, a jury decides whether a defendant is guilty or innocent of the crimes the state charges them in a criminal complaint. Before the case proceeds in Municipal or Superior Court, a defendant appears before a judge at an arraignment to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. While this may seem simple, knowing how to plead is essential and requires some information and perspective. Before attending an arraignment, a defendant should confer with a criminal defense attorney for information about the criminal court process, the charges, and possible defenses. Armed with knowledge and advice, a defendant may appear at their arraignment more confidently. Our highly experienced criminal defense firm has handled numerous arraignment proceedings in Camden County and throughout Southern New Jersey. We are prepared to walk you through every stage of the New Jersey criminal process and zealously protect your rights every step of the way. Contact our office for a free case analysis and consultation. We can assist you immediately, so please call (609)-832-3202 or chat with us if you are in need of defense counsel.
When does an Arraignment Occur in the NJ Criminal Process?
An arraignment may be the first hearing in a criminal case, but it depends on whether the charges are disorderly persons offenses or indictable offenses. For example, when an accused faces a disorderly conduct charge, they appear in municipal court for the first time at their arraignment, which occurs soon after arrest or according to a summons to appear. During this hearing, known as the first appearance in municipal court cases, the judge reads the charges in the criminal complaint against the defendant and asks a few questions. The defendant then pleads guilty or not guilty to the charges. On the other hand, the arraignment occurs within two weeks after the grand jury returns an indictment in superior court. The prosecutor in charge of the criminal case submits their evidence to a grand jury that decides whether there is enough evidence to back up the criminal charges. If so, they return an indictment. Afterward, the defendant appears for their arraignment.
Prior to an arraignment and after the defendant’s arrest, the prosecutor may request a detention hearing. At the detention hearing, the judge decides whether the defendant stays in jail until the time of trial or not. Prosecuting and defense attorneys can present arguments about whether the defendant will appear at future hearings or commit a further crime while released. While the detention hearing is adversarial, the arraignment is not. Between the detention hearing and the arraignment, there are other ways for the case to resolve and steps in the process, such as the Pre-Indictment Conference and plea negotiations between the prosecution and defense. A defendant’s charges may be downgraded and sent back to municipal court, or they may be eligible to have their case diverted through an alternative program like Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI).
What Happens at the Arraignment Hearing?
The arraignment serves as the defendant’s opportunity to hear the charges, answer the judge’s questions, and plead guilty or not guilty. The judge may then keep the defendant incarcerated, release the defendant to return to court later, or release them on the condition they perform specific actions. Typical requirements include committing no crimes, staying away from the victim, or reporting to the court. Aside from informing the defendant of the charges filed against them, the arraignment is where the judge sets further court dates, depending on how the defendant pleads. If they plead not guilty, the judge can map out the next hearing with an eye toward the pretrial hearings and trial date. The judge sets the Pretrial Status Conference date 30 to 45 days after the arraignment.
In superior court, the judge orders discovery deadline dates in addition to hearing dates. Discovery is exchanging information and documents between the prosecution and defense using formal written requests and demands. In municipal court, the judge sets a trial date after the defendant pleads not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty, the superior court judge may set a date for sentencing, when they can sentence the defendant based on evidence, testimony, and pre-sentencing investigation gathered up until that time. In municipal court, the judge pronounces a sentence at the arraignment if a guilty plea is entered at that time.
Do You Need to Have a Lawyer for an Arraignment in New Jersey?
Since the arraignment sets the entire criminal action in motion, a defendant may wish to have counsel at the hearing. It is not required but may help a defendant understand the charges they face, the judge’s questions, and their rights. Beforehand, and when the arraignment is over, may be a good time for defense counsel to be negotiating for a better outcome for the defendant. In other words, they may begin discussing plea agreement options and get a feel for the prosecutor’s stance on the case. A criminal defense attorney has several opportunities to compromise with the prosecution, from the arraignment to trial. At the Pretrial Status Conference, your attorney will have another chance to negotiate with the prosecution after giving you their initial discovery. Thus, you should strongly consider the choice to hire a skilled criminal defense lawyer if you face criminal charges with an upcoming arraignment date. In addition, what you do not want to do is miss the arraignment. Missing a court-ordered hearing may result in your arrest and an additional criminal charge for failing to appear at an arraignment.
If you do not have an attorney for the arraignment, you can get one afterward. However, the advantages of criminal defense advice and support at the arraignment cannot be understated. Your attorney can relay your plea to the judge and assist you in filling out and understanding the paperwork you sign in entering a plea. They can prepare you for the arraignment. They can coach you, so you know what to say and when, as well as what the judge will ask you. They can arm you with your rights at the hearing and explain the advantages and disadvantages of a guilty or not guilty plea, considering the strengths and weaknesses of your defense. And if they believe the court should dismiss the charges against you, or you are in a good position to win the case at trial or reach a much more favorable outcome during pre-trial hearings, your attorney can counsel you on why pleading not guilty and challenging the case is the way to go.
Our Camden County Criminal Arraignment Attorneys can Discuss Your Options
Our lawyers concentrate on criminal law and defense in New Jersey, meaning we participate in the criminal process stages like arraignment on a daily basis. With decades of combined experience, we can ensure you understand your options now and in the future. We can inform you of everything you need to know about what happens in court, what the charges mean, consequences you face, issues with the evidence against you, programs you may be able to use, any discussions with the prosecuting attorney, the prospects for a better result, and the trial risks and benefits. Our criminal trial team is prepared to analyze the evidence against you and advise you the entire way to help you make decisions about what to do based on moment to moment changes and your best defense options. Confer with us regarding your criminal charges at no cost, with zero obligation. You can get additional guidance and help by contacting (609)-832-3202 to speak with an attorney today.