If you have been charged with a criminal charge, you will be given a date upon which you must appear before a Criminal Judge. If you do not appear on the date you are given, or prior to that, then you will be additionally charged with a failure to appear.
Merely appearing before a criminal Judge does not mean you are guilty of the crime you have been charged with. This first appearance, the arraignment, is for several reasons.
First, you will be read you rights. You have certain constitutional rights that are granted to you during the criminal process. One of these important rights is the right to counsel. If you want an attorney to represent you in the proceedings, you need to inform the Judge so that they can give you time to retain a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer.
Secondly, the Judge will explain the charges against you and the potential sentences that you may be given. The sentence may include probation, fines and penalties, jail time, community service or even education classes.
Thirdly, the Judge will ask you to enter a plea of either guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Remember, you do not have to enter a plea at any time without speaking to an attorney. Once a guilty plea is entered, it can only be appealed, which is a lengthy process. If you are not sure and wish to speak to an attorney, then inform the court and they will give you a short continuance to do so.
Fourth, at the arraignment, you will get the chance to speak to a Prosecutor regarding a plea bargain. A plea bargain is an offer that the Prosecutor will make in exchange for a guilty plea in Court that day.
Let’s consider an example. David is charged with Drunk and Disorderly conduct. He is given a court date and he appears before a Judge. Prior to going before the Judge , the Prosecutor talks to David and tells him that they will not give him any jail time if he pleads to a misdemeanor offense. When David goes before the Judge, the Judge explains to David that he has been charged with a criminal offense, and what the potential sentence may be, should David go to trial. The potential offense will include jail time, probation and penalties and fines. The Judge also explains to David that he has certain rights and one of those rights is to seek counsel. David informs the Judge that he would like to continue the arraignment so that he can speak to an attorney. The Judge immediately grants him the continuance and sets the hearing out another 30 days.
David takes that time to speak to an attorney and quickly learns that based on the facts of his case he would not be facing any jail time anyways, and that there is a good chance that his case will be reduced to an infraction. It is highly beneficial to David that he did not immediately accept the offer, but instead chose to continue the matter so that he could speak to an attorney.
If you find yourself in this situation, don’t take any chances. Be educated, and informed, and speak to a legal professional as soon as possible!