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If you were recently arrested for a criminal offense, one of the first court appearances you will attend is called an arraignment hearing.

It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed navigating a complex legal system you may know little about. Perhaps one of the biggest questions swirling is what exactly will take place when you go before a judge for an arraignment hearing.

Will you have a chance to share your side? What is the judge deciding? And critically—what steps can you take to advocate for yourself during the brief proceeding?

This blog provides answers by outlining a clear roadmap of what you should expect from the arraignment process from start to finish, including advice to guide your conduct and practical tips for this court appearance.

What is the Purpose of an Arraignment Hearing?

The arraignment hearing serves three primary functions according to Rule 5 of Minnesota’s Rules of Criminal Procedure:

  • Inform the defendant of the charges and potential penalties: The judge reads the formal charges and maximum penalties, ensuring the defendants understand the allegations against them.
  • Advise the defendant of their various rights: The judge outlines important constitutional and legal rights, like the right to remain silent, have an attorney present for questioning, receive appointed counsel if indigent, access evidence, and receive either a bench or jury trial.
  • Set bail and release conditions: The judge decides bail (whether and under what terms the defendant can be released pending trial) along with other release requirements like appearing at future hearings, restrictions on travel, refraining from criminal acts, avoiding witness or victim contact, drug testing, house arrest, electronic monitoring, etc.

At the prosecutor’s request, the judge may also order booking procedures like fingerprinting and photographing the defendant.

What Happens at the Court Hearing?

Court hearings can feel nerve-wracking if the process is unfamiliar. This section will outline the standard pieces so you know what to anticipate.

The Judge Reads the Charges Against You

The judge reads the complaint filed by the prosecution, which lists the specific charges and maximum sentences you face. Pay close attention so you fully understand what they are alleging you did.

You Will Be Informed Of Your Rights

At the arraignment hearing, judges directly advise defendants of several important legal rights, including:

  • The right to remain silent rather than answer potentially self-incriminating questions
  • That any statements made can and will be used against the defendant
  • The right to have defense counsel present at interrogations or line-ups with witnesses
  • The right to legal counsel for all parts of the case if indigent, with free appointed representation for offenses involving potential jail time
  • Ability to confidentially communicate with their lawyer
  • Choosing either a jury trial or bench trial (trial decided by a judge alone)
  • What types of pleas they can enter based on the offense charged

The judge must confirm each defendant hears and understands these rights before proceeding further. This helps ensure defendants enter subsequent pleas, waivers, or statements voluntarily and intelligently.

Entering Your Plea

If you’re charged with a misdemeanor, the judge will ask you to enter a plea at the arraignment of either guilty, not guilty or no contest.

  • Pleading guilty means admitting you committed the crime and will face sentencing right away.
  • A not guilty plea means you dispute the charges, and the case will be set for trial.

For more serious gross misdemeanor and felony charges, you typically enter pleas at later hearings after consulting your attorney if you request one.

Setting Your Bail and Release Rules

One important part of the arraignment hearing is the judge deciding the terms, if any, under which you can be released from custody pending the outcome of your criminal case. The legal rules around pretrial release conditions are covered under Rule 6.02.

The judge will consider arguments from the prosecution and your defense addressing whether bail should be set, and if so, at what dollar amount reflecting the severity of charges and flight risk factors.

Also, The judge rules on other release requirements beyond bail payment, such as:

  • Geographic or travel limitations
  • Avoiding contact with alleged victims, witnesses or co-defendants
  • Obeying protective orders
  • Periodic drug/alcohol testing
  • House arrest or electronic monitoring to track movements
  • Regular check-ins with a pretrial services officer
  • Undergoing medical or mental health treatment
  • Complying with no-contact orders or restraining orders
  • Refraining from possessing weapons or firearms

Then, the judge weighs various components in deciding appropriate release rules – public safety risks, financial resources, employment constraints, residential stability, mental health issues, and more. The court may deny release altogether if you are deemed a danger to the community or a flight risk.

What Happens After the Hearing?

After the arraignment hearing concludes, you’ll have to appear at your next court date for a Pretrial Conference (sometimes called a “Rule 8 Appearance”).

Before that court date arrives, your defense lawyer will request and review pretrial discovery from the prosecutor. This includes any documents, materials, or evidence the prosecution plans to use against you.

Reviewing this discovery allows your lawyer to start preparing your defense strategy for the charges you face. Thorough pretrial preparation lays the groundwork for mounting strong advocacy at the Pretrial Conference and beyond.

Navigating Your Arraignment With Confidence

If you have been arrested on a criminal charge, securing experienced legal representation immediately is vital. Our criminal defense attorneys at Martine Law have a proven record of results protecting our client’s rights and resolving cases favorably.

With decades of combined courtroom and negotiation experience, we perform exhaustive case investigation and preparation to craft an aggressive defense to the charges you face.

Contact us today and learn how our legal experience can be put to work fighting the charges against you.