New Jersey Arraignment Hearing Process
Getting arrested is a traumatic experience, and the arrest is often only the first step of a long legal process. Your first court appearance will be your arraignment hearing. An arraignment hearing includes:
- Court reads the charges against you.
- You are asked about legal counsel.
- Bail motion is heard.
- Court dates for motion hearings are scheduled.
- Court dates for pre-trial and trial are scheduled.
Timing of the Arraignment Hearing
The timing of your arraignment hearing will depend on if you are still in custody or not. To protect the defendant’s safety, it has long been federal law that an arraignment occurs as quickly as possible. Most of the time, arraignment hearings take place within 48 hours for those still in jail.
In-custody defendants are either transported to the courthouse to appear in person or to a separate part of the jail to participate in a virtual arraignment. A virtual arraignment is one that is held via videoconference.
Those individuals who have bailed out of jail will be scheduled for their arraignment a few weeks out. This will give you time to contact your Morristown criminal defense lawyer to begin working on your defense.
Advisement of Rights
You will be advised of your right to counsel and your right to waive your arraignment hearing. Not all states allow you to waive your arraignment. The defendant is also given the choice of not hearing the charges read aloud in front of the court.
Advisement of Charges
At this time, the court will read aloud the criminal complaint against you. They will also advise you of any indictment information. You have the right to receive a copy of this information.
Appointment of Counsel
After the charges are read, the judge will ask you if you have retained an attorney. The court will also determine if you qualify for representation by a public defender. You do have the right to have an attorney present at your arraignment. If you choose to exercise this right and your attorney is not present, a second arraignment hearing will be scheduled. Once you make it known that you want your attorney present, it is illegal to arraign you without your lawyer present.
Entering a Plea
After you have been advised of the charges against you, the judge will ask you how you plead to those charges. Following are the possible ways you can respond.
It is common for defense attorneys to recommend that the defendant always enter a plea of not guilty at the arraignment hearing. This forces the state to prove its case against you. Once the state has gathered all the evidence, your Morristown criminal defense lawyer will be able to review the evidence against you. The extra time allows for you and your lawyer to prepare your defense for trial.
When a defendant enters a guilty plea at arraignment to a minor offense, the judge may choose to sentence the defendant during the hearing itself. If a guilty plea is entered in response to more serious crimes, there will be other hearings and conferences before the sentence is handed down.
A plea of no contest is also known as a plea of nolo contendere. This plea serves as an acknowledgment that you recognize that there is enough evidence for a conviction. Procedures following a plea of no contest are the same as those for a guilty plea.
Setting Conditions for Pretrial Release
Following the plea, the court might set conditions for a defendant to be released pending trial. In setting these conditions, the following factors are considered:
- If the defendant presents a danger to the community if he or she is released.
- Criminal record and the nature of any prior offenses.
- Ties to the community, including the presence of family and the length of time the defendant has been a resident of the community.
- The defendant’s employment status in the community and the length of time they have been employed at that job.
- Defendant’s history of failure to appear.
When these factors have been reviewed, the following release options are considered and determined.
Release on Your Own Recognizance
A release on your own recognizance is also known as “ROR.” This release is not based on money. It is based on your promise to report to all court dates. A failure to appear to your court dates might reverse the court’s decision to release you. If your release is revoked, you could be sent back to jail until your trial is complete.
Bail or Bond
When the court sets bail, it requires that the defendant post money to the court in order to be released until your trial. A bond is either cash or surety. A cash bond requires that the amount of bail be paid in full to the courts. The amount will be held and returned to you at the end of your trial. A surety bond only requires a percentage of the full bail amount to be paid. It is usually backed by some type of collateral. When the defendant ultimately appears in court, the money is returned to you.
No matter which type of bond is assigned for your bail, if you fail to appear in court, you will forfeit the money, and a warrant for your arrest will be issued.
Under a supervised release agreement, you will be required to keep regular appointments with a probation officer. You also may be subjected to random drug tests. If you miss too many meetings or fail a drug test, the courts can revoke your release and can order your return to jail until your trial.
Other Conditions of Release
Common in all of these release scenarios are the following rules:
- You may be required to wear an ankle bracelet that tracks your movements.
- You must abstain from drugs and alcohol.
- You cannot be arrested for any new crimes.
- You may not possess firearms or other weapons.
- You will not be allowed to travel outside of your community.
- You may be subject to house arrest.
- You may not associate with the victims or any witnesses to the crime.
- You may not associate with any felons.
If any of these conditions are violated, you will be in violation of your conditions of release and are then subject to being taken back to jail until your trial.
The final step in your arrangement hearing will be the court assigning specific court dates to all of your motions hearings, status conferences, and ultimately the trial.
The arraignment hearing is only the beginning. If you are not assigned a public defender, you will need to retain a Morristown criminal defense lawyer to begin to plan your defense and prepare for trial. To get started on your case, call criminal defense lawyer Gregg Wisotsky in Morristown, New Jersey, at (973) 898-1494 for advice regarding your criminal case.