What is an Arraignment? Definition & Plea Bargaining
Updated: Feb 11
During an arraignment, the judge or magistrate formally informs you of the charges against you. The accused is expected to enter a plea of guilt, not guilty, or no contest. The arraignment is the initial appearance in court and sets the stage for subsequent proceedings and conditions to follow in your case.
Do I Need a Lawyer at my Arraignment?
Yes. Anytime you are facing a criminal charge you need an attorney. Without a lawyer handling your defense strategy, you may enter the wrong plea. The law is full of deadlines and requests that must be made timely or you lose certain rights. The sooner you hire an attorney, the sooner your lawyer can obtain copies of the police report, witness statements, and audio and videotapes, if they exist.
Even if you intend to plea guilty, it is best to have an attorney take a look at your case because they may find a hole in the case that requires the prosecutor to reduce the charge, or catch a mistake that was made by law enforcement. If there is not a way out and you intend to plea guilty, you still need an attorney to limit the collateral damage.
For example, there are several statutes in Texas that require a driver’s license suspension if you are found guilty. There are even certain crimes that carry a mandatory jail time as a condition of probation. You need an attorney to explain the consequences and help you avoid unforeseen or unwanted punishments. Sometimes an attorney can even arrange a better deal than you thought was possible. Lastly, you need to make sure it is done right the first time because most guilty pleas in Texas require that you waive your right to appeal.
Should I Take a Plea Bargain?
Whether or not to take a plea bargain is entirely your decision. An attorney, family member or friend cannot make this decision for you. The best decision of whether or not to accept a plea bargain is unique to each case. Influential factors can include the attorney representing you, evidence in your favor, evidence against you, evidence you have discovered through your own investigation, opinions of experts, and even the results of a mock trial.
Benefits of Accepting a Plea Bargain
If you decide to accept the plea bargain, you can likely expect a shorter resolution of your case. Negotiating a plea bargain often takes less time than carrying out a full court case and trial. Once your bargain is accepted, you may also be more likely to receive an abbreviated sentence or probation, depending on the offense. Your may also be able to maintain a cleaner record if the plea bargain results in fewer charges being pressed against you. Once again, you need to consider all options and outcomes and consider the counsel of your defense attorney when considering a plea bargain.