When a person has been arrested for a criminal charge, they will be asked to appear before a criminal Judge. This first appearance is called an arraignment. At the arraignment the Judge will explain the charges brought against the person, and will read them their rights. These rights will include the right to an attorney and the right to a speedy trial among others.
At the arraignment the Judge will also ask the person charged to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. The person will also have the opportunity to speak to a Prosecutor and ask about the plea bargain. A plea bargain is an offer made by prosecutor’s in exchange for a guilty plea. The government will offer the person charged a lesser sentence or a reduced charge if they plead guilty and forfeit their right to a trial.
For example, let’s assume that Dan has been charged with driving under the influence. He did not damage any property, or injure another person. He complied with officers, has no prior criminal record and blew a .08 Blood Alcohol Level. Dan’s Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer appears on behalf of Dan and negotiates with the Prosecutor. The Prosecutor gives the lawyer a plea bargain; that if Dan pleads guilty at the arraignment, the government will reduce his charge from driving under the influence to a reckless driving charge.
Dan consults with his experienced Los Angeles DUI attorney who instructs him to take the offer and plead guilty. A reckless driving charge will avoid having a misdemeanor on his record and will possibly avoid license suspension.
Dan must, however, accept the charge at the arraignment. If Dan chooses to plead not guilty he will lose the option to accept the plea bargain. Dan will then move onto the next stage of criminal proceedings, pre-trial. He will have the option to bargain at pre-trial but there is no guarantee that the offer given at the arraignment will be better or worse. It is a chance Dan will have to take if he chooses to decline the plea bargain and plead not guilty.
Oftentimes it is recommended to decline the offer at the arraignment and hold off at pre-trial. The pre-trial is held in a different courtroom. The person charged will be facing a different Judge and a different prosecutor. At the arraignment the Judge does not always have the authority to change the offer. At the arraignment the Prosecutor will look at the charge and give a standard offer. He or she will not know the background of the person or the facts of the specific case. In contrast, at the pre-trial the Prosecutor will have looked at the person’s criminal history and the specific facts of the case before giving an offer.
That is why is is often recommended to wait until pre-trial to negotiation, however, there are many cases in which the offer at pre-trial will be worse than the one given at the arraignment. To accurately determine when an offer should be taken and when it should be declined, speak to a professional in the field as soon as possible.