Do I have to go to my arraignment hearing?

A common question and concern is whether or not you have to go to your arraignment hearing after being arrested in Georgia. The answer: It depends. But usually there are ways to avoid this hearing with an attorney.

Arraignments are not Trials

Contrary to what most people think, arraignment hearings are not a trial date. The cop doesn’t have to be there, you won’t have to get up and give the judge your side of events, and evidence against you won’t be presented. Therefore, you are not expected to have your defense built by this arraignment date hearing. In fact, technically, the arraignment date is more so a deadline for the prosecutor, since they must have your charges drafted by this date and ready to be presented to you. See, you will not be prosecuted for most crimes off of the citations the cop gave you- except rather minor traffic tickets- and you cannot be prosecuted off of a warrant. So, either an accusation or indictment against you must be drafted by the prosecutor’s office here in Georgia. Most times, accusations are used for misdemeanors, while indictments are drafted for felony cases.

Arraignments Start Deadlines

Arraignment is where the judge must read you the formal charges against you, upon your request. This practice is usually waived, and a copy of the charges will be given to you instead. Note, there is a very important deadline set by arraignment dates. You have 10 days after your arraignment to file most motions involving the evidence and litigation of your case. The prosecutor is not obligated to give you evidence just because you ask; you must file a discovery motion to compel this to happen. So, even if you have not filed for discovery, this 10 day deadline still begins running at arraignment.

Your Choices at Arraignment: Guilty, Not Guilty, Nolo, Pretrials, or HIRE A LAWYER

Typically, prosecutors will at least have a first plea offer to present you at your arraignment date. Don’t misunderstand- it is not going to be a great plea offer where they have somehow accepted their case is in shambles and the cop who arrested you should be relieved from their duties. Rather, 9 times out of 10, the plea offer will be to plead guilty to the original charges, however many there may be, and what the prosecutor will recommend as part of that guilty plea. On a DUI, they will want Risk Reduction completed while on probation, on a shoplifting case, maybe they want a cognitive skills course. And so on. Their arraignment plea offer will likely take into account any history you have as well as the facts they read about from your case.

You have the option to plead guilty, not guilty, or you could ask for a nolo contendre plea to be accepted by the court, technically. However, while not advised, the prosecutor may conduct “pretrials,” though you need to remember that if you have a pretrial conference, you are speaking with the person whose goal it is to successfully prosecute you. Be wary. Anything you do or say- as the saying goes- can and will be used against you. A much better option is to get a copy of the charges against you and then, when your turn, to ask the judge for a continuance or postponement of this arraignment date in order to hire a lawyer of your choice. A vast majority of reasonable judges will grant this request for time to hire your own lawyer, as they know it helps everyone for you to have a good attorney working with you on your case.

Attorneys can Usually Waive Arraignments

So, what do I tell my clients about this arraignment hearing that so much stress seems to revolve around? We will waive it and you won’t have to appear. I know. The bond sheet says you MUST appear or a bench warrant will be issued for your arrest. I explain to my clients that these bond sheets must contain very simple, very direct information for the masses. Everyone who bonds out must have just the most essential of information. You must appear. However, if you are smart enough to be reading this in preparation for your case, and have already hired a lawyer to represent you, a new set of rules will apply.

You see, arraignments are really a hearing for the judge to address everyone without a lawyer and usually give them a nudge in the right direction: Get a lawyer- these are serious charges! Kind judges will even reset (postpone) arraignment hearings once after they have informed someone they should seek a lawyer to help them.

As an attorney, we waive arraignments where we can by entering a not guilty plea and filing other motions for evidence, attacks on the state’s charges against you and similar. Once the court is in receipt of our waiver and packet of motions, we can then excuse you from appearing at your arraignment. Folks always ask if that makes them look bad. No, the opposite is true. Judges appreciate having less people packed in their courtroom (especially after COVID-19) and will now even have restrictions on how many people can attend any given hearing. For these reasons, they love when attorneys step in and file waivers of arraignment.

Very few judges still force everyone to appear at an arraignment, but, if that is the case, then we will certainly make arrangements to appear with you on this court date. Again, in post-COVID days, fewer and fewer courts will stick to such archaic policies.

Who is Zeliff | Watson and How We Can Help with Your Arraignment?

At Zeliff | Watson, we are a true defense team. We have a combined 35+ years of experience in criminal defense litigation. Both Peter and Evan have again been named to Georgia’s Elite Super Lawyers list in 2020 and are busy working out the best resolutions possible for clients, even during the ongoing pandemic and all of the restrictions it has brought.

If you have recently been arrested or have an arraignment hearing coming up, or have had one reset by a judge to find an attorney- give us a call. We will be more than happy to spend the time going over your case with you to craft your best defense. You will find that we are very upfront about what you should expect, as well as our abilities to help you. We can be reached at: (770) 676 1340 or by using the confidential contact form on our website. Our phones are answered or reach out partners personal lines 24 hours a day.

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