The arraignment is the first time you appear in Orange County Court. The judge will call your case and you will have to stand while the judge reads the charges filed against you and formally advises you of your rights. If you are in custody, you must be arraigned within two court days of being arrested. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, your attorney can most likely appear on your behalf without you being present. However, if you are charged with a felony in Orange County, your presence will be required.
If you do not have an attorney and cannot afford one, you can request to apply for a public defender. Additionally, if you do not understand English, an interpreter will be provided.
There are three possible pleas you can make at the arraignment – guilty, not guilty and nolo contendere (no contest). A plea of guilty will end the case immediately and you will be sentenced. A plea of nolo contendere or no contest is the same as a guilty plea, except it cannot be used against you in a civil matter. A plea of not guilty will cause your case to proceed to the pretrial stage.
It is absolutely never advisable that you plead guilty at your arraignment without seeing the evidence in your case or discussing your case with a lawyer. This holds true even though the judge or prosecutor might attempt to get you to do so by threatening worse punishment should you not plead guilty. The other alternative is to continue the arraignment to a new date so that you can obtain your police report and complaint, then discuss your case with an attorney.
Scott Hughes is an Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney regularly practicing in all Orange County Courts.