If you have been charged with a felony, your criminal case formally begins with an arraignment hearing. This first court appearance is a critical step in the criminal justice process. Understanding what happens after your felony arraignment will help you navigate the complex legal system and work effectively with your criminal defense attorney.
What is a Felony Arraignment?
An arraignment is typically the first court appearance a defendant makes after being charged with a felony. It is a formal proceeding where the felony charges are read to the defendant in open court.
At the arraignment, the judge:
- Informs the defendant of the charges filed against them
- Ensures the defendant has a copy of the charges
- Asks the defendant to enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, no contest)
- Addresses bail and pretrial release
- Schedules future court dates
Arraignments happen fairly quickly, often within 48 hours of an arrest. Defendants must be arraigned before any further court proceedings can occur.
Entering a Plea at Arraignment
When asked to enter a plea at arraignment, the options are:
- Guilty: Admitting guilt to the charges filed.
- Not Guilty: Disputing the charges and demanding the prosecutor prove the case at trial. This is the most common plea at arraignment.
- No Contest: Not admitting or denying guilt but accepting the penalties the court may impose. Also called a nolo contendere plea.
Defendants should consult with a criminal defense attorney before entering any plea. An experienced lawyer can assess the prosecution’s case and help determine the best plea to enter at arraignment.
What Happens After Arraignment?
The steps following a felony arraignment depend on the plea entered and other specifics of the case. However, typical post-arraignment events include:
The prosecution must share all evidence related to the case with the defense. This process is called discovery. Defendants have a right to view all witness statements, investigative reports, photographs, videos, and other evidence prosecutors plan to present.
Thorough discovery helps ensure defendants receive a fair trial and allows the defense to evaluate the case properly.
2. Preliminary Hearing
The court holds a preliminary hearing within 10-45 days of the arraignment. This hearing determines if enough evidence exists to prosecute the charges.
At the hearing, the prosecutor presents evidence and witness testimony. The judge then decides if probable cause exists to believe the defendant committed the alleged felony. If so, the case moves ahead to a trial. If not, the judge dismisses the charges.
Defendants sometimes waive their right to a preliminary hearing to speed up the court process. But holding the hearing can help the defense get an early look at the prosecutor’s case.
3. Pretrial Motions and Plea Bargaining
Before trial, the defense and prosecution often file pretrial motions disputing evidentiary issues or requesting a judge to throw out certain evidence.
The defense may also try negotiating with the prosecutor to reduce charges or sentencing (known as plea bargaining). Most felony cases are resolved through plea deals rather than trials.
4. Felony Trial
If no plea agreement is reached, the case proceeds to a jury trial. Trials begin with jury selection, then move to opening statements where each side outlines their case.
The prosecutor presents evidence and questions witnesses first, trying to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant committed the alleged crimes. The defense then cross-examines witnesses and presents its own evidence.
Finally, both sides make closing arguments. The jury then deliberates and returns a verdict. For guilty verdicts, sentencing occurs at a later hearing.
While every criminal case is unique, the general timeline after a felony arraignment is:
- 1-2 Weeks Later: First pretrial conference where both attorneys meet with the judge to discuss case scheduling, exchange of evidence between parties, and plea bargain negotiations.
- 10-60 Days Later: Preliminary hearing unless waived by the defense.
- 60-120 Days Later: Motions filing deadlines and more pretrial conferences. Intensive plea bargaining
- 120-180 Days Later: Trial date if no plea bargain is reached. The trial may last several days or weeks, depending on the case’s complexity.
- 60-90 Days After Trial: Sentencing hearing if found guilty at trial.
Post-arraignment timelines vary based on factors like case backlogs, availability of witnesses and attorneys, pretrial motion litigation, and plea negotiations.
Getting an Attorney for Your Felony Case
The criminal justice process involves many complex steps after your initial felony arraignment. Having an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side can make all the difference. Their team understands how to navigate each stage of a case to protect your rights.
For a case review, contact their office today. Their felony defense lawyers will start building your defense strategy immediately.