After people are arrested for crimes, they will typically have to appear in court to hear the charges against them and submit their pleas. Called an arraignment, this court procedure is fairly straightforward and generally only requires defendants to identify themselves and say one or two words to get through the proceedings. Strangely enough, though, many defendants commit grievous mistakes during this court appointment that significantly hurts their cases. Here are three common ones you want to avoid doing at your arraignment.
It may seem inconceivable that a defendant would plead guilty to a crime before going to trial, but some people do. They may feel there is overwhelming evidence against them and that they have no other choice or simply want to get the proceedings over and done with as soon as possible. Whatever the reason, they end up tanking their cases before the trials can even begin by entering a guilty plea on the record.
This is devastating for a number of reasons. First, it's incredibly challenging to withdraw a guilty plea at a later date. You have to file a motion to vacate the plea and show good reason why the judge should let you do plead not guilty or no contest instead (e.g. there's a legitimate chance you're innocent or the plea deal you received was unfair). Even then, the judge still has the discretion to deny your request for any reason.
Second, pleading guilty reduces your chances of getting a good deal with the prosecutor. Essentially, you're making the prosecutor's case for him or her by admitting guilt. The attorney can use that plea to convict you without having to show any evidence you committed the crime, which means he or she had little to no motivation to make any type of deal for reduced jail time or other consequences.
Even if you think the prosecutor's case is a slam dunk, always plead not guilty. It's easier to make the change at a later date and the prosecutor will be more willing to extend a deal offer to avoid the time and expense of going to trial.
Not Submitting a Plea at All
Another tactic that some defendants take is to not enter a plea at all out of some misguided notion that the case can't proceed until a plea is entered or entering even a not guilty plea will hurt them in some way. Whatever the reason, refusing to enter a plea is problematic for a couple of reasons.
First, the judge will simply enter a not guilty plea for you, which is within his or her right to do so. While it's true the case cannot proceed until a plea has been entered from the defendant, the defendant isn't necessarily the person who has to give it to the court. If you refuse to cooperate with the proceedings and withhold your plea, the judge (and sometimes your attorney) will do it for you to move things along; so you will have wasted both you and the court's time for nothing.
Second, an unwillingness to submit a plea may indicate to the prosecutor that you will equally be unwilling to consider a plea deal, which may result in the prosecutor not bothering to offer one and going straight to trial. If there is good evidence against you, you could end up suffering more severe consequences than if you had plead out.
Even if you're not sure what you should do, simply plead not guilty. As noted previously, you can always change it later it you need to.
Not Getting an Attorney
Lastly, a major mistake defendants make is not having an attorney present at their arraignment. Conceivably, the proceeding is so straightforward that you don't really need one. However, it's a good idea to have representation with you anyway. That's because sometimes the only time the prosecutor will offer a plea deal is during the arraignment and you want someone with knowledge and experience with criminal cases who can advise you on what to do and negotiate the best deal for you.
A private criminal defense lawyer can cost anywhere from $750 to $10,000, depending on the severity of the crime and complexity of the case. If you can't afford a private attorney, then you need to request one at the arraignment as soon as you are able. A public defender will be assigned to you who will protect your rights and work with the prosecutor on a plea deal if necessary.
For assistance with your arraignment or other aspects of your criminal case, contact an attorney.
I'll be up front: I have a criminal record. As someone who's spent lots--and lots--of time looking for a job in my life, I've gotten used to being up front with this fact. It's difficult to get hired with this on my record, and frankly, it never gets less scary to have to tell an interviewer about it. But that doesn't mean I'm unemployable. I'm a hard worker who can bring a lot to any company. And I also know what an employer needs to do for me. I know my rights. There's no federal law protecting me from discrimination due to my record, but there are plenty of state laws that make it a little easier for me. If you're looking for a job and you have a criminal record, read through this information. Protect yourself during a job search. Know your rights.