In General District Court, an arraignment is when someone is formally advised of the criminal charges against them and advised of their right to an attorney. It is very likely that a person will need to appear at an arraignment on charges of Driving While Intoxicated (“DWI” or “DUI”), Driving on a Suspended License, Possession of Controlled Substances, most Reckless Driving charges, most Class 1 Misdemeanors, and all Felonies. All of those charges carry the possibility of being sentenced to jail.
At the arraignment, the defendant appears in court, the judge reads the charges aloud, the judge informs the defendant that there is a possibility of being sentenced to jail, and the judge informs the defendant that they have a right to have an attorney represent them.
Note: if a defendant is being held in jail without bond, or if a defendant has not yet posted a bond, the arraignment is not the same thing as a bond hearing!
If the criminal charges carry the possibility of a jail sentence, then the defendant has three options:
They can hire their own attorney.
They can waive (give up) their right to an attorney and represent themselves at trial.
If they meet certain financial requirements, they can ask the court to appoint an attorney to represent them.
After explaining these three choices, the judge will usually ask the defendant what they intend to do about hiring an attorney. Then, the judge will pick a date for the trial (or, for a felony, a preliminary hearing).
A word on timing: An arraignment is usually scheduled within a week or so of the date of arrest (or the date of receiving a summons.) For misdemeanors, the trial is usually scheduled around one month (or more) after the arraignment. (For felonies, the preliminary hearing may be scheduled slightly later.) Each jurisdiction is different, but most courts follow a version of this timing.
A word on appearing and scheduling: In many cases I can prevent my clients from having to appear at an arraignment. Each jurisdiction is different, and this is not possible in every court. Nonetheless, when my clients retain me before the arraignment, I can often coordinate with the courthouse to schedule a trial date without an arraignment. Many of my clients find this to be extremely beneficial. For out-of-state clients, they can avoid making an expensive and unnecessary trip back to Virginia. For those with busy work schedules, they can avoid the cost and inconvenience of missing a day of work. Additionally, there is greater flexibility in selecting a trial date when I am retained before an arraignment. For clients with known scheduling conflicts (e.g., family vacation, wedding, business trip, etc.), I can often schedule the trial so as to avoid a conflict with the previously scheduled obligation.
PLEASE NOTE: Unless the appropriate prior approval is obtained from the court, failing to appear for an arraignment (or any other mandatory court appearance) will likely result with the judge issuing a capias (i.e., an arrest warrant) and an additional charge of “Failure to Appear” (“FTA”).
If you are scheduled to appear at an arraignment, call my office for a free consultation. I can evaluate the details of your case and discuss all of your options. If you live outside of the area, or if scheduling is a concern, I will likely be able to help you avoid appearing at the arraignment.
If you would like to avoid appearing at the arraignment, please call as soon as possible—the earlier the better. If you have waited until the last minute, it may be more difficult for you to avoid appearing, but it is not necessarily impossible! Please call immediately.
To set up a free consultation today, call (757) 333-7529 or use the Contact page.