In Arkansas, someone who has been arrested and is being held in jail has a right to be taken before a judge (or other judicial officer) without unnecessary delay. (Ark. R. Crim. P. 8.1.)
(For more general information about initial appearances and arraignments, see Arraignment: Getting to Court.)
Prompt First Appearance
Arkansas law doesn’t include a specific time limit for first appearances. A judge will assess the reasonableness of the time interval before a first court appearance on a case-by-case basis. Courts have rejected claims of unnecessary delay for periods under 24 hours, but a delay of several days might be considered unjustified if there isn’t an excuse for it.
When a court determines that there’s been unnecessary delay in bringing an arrestee to court, the normal remedy is suppression of evidence rather than dismissal of charges. In other words, the case against the defendant doesn’t go away, but evidence obtained during the delay—like a confession by the defendant—may be inadmissible in court. (Richardson v. State, 283 Ark. 82 (1984).) But before a court will find such evidence inadmissible, it must determine that the evidence is harmful to the defendant and related to the delay. (Landrum v. State, 328 Ark. 361 (1997).)
Probable Cause Determination
If the authorities arrest someone without a warrant, they must get a judge to make a probable cause determination in order to hold the arrestee longer than 48 hours. Usually the probable cause assessment will happen at the first appearance, but the defendant doesn’t have to be present for it, so it may occur separately. Only an emergency or extraordinary circumstance will justify holding someone longer than 48 hours without a probable cause determination. (Ark. R. Crim. P. 4.1.)
If the judge finds that there isn’t probable cause to believe that the suspect committed the crime in question, then the case doesn’t proceed and the authorities must release the arrestee. But that rarely happens—in most cases, the judge finds probable cause for the arrest and the case carries on. (Ark. R. Crim. P. 4.1.)
What Happens in Court
At the first court appearance, the judge will inform the defendant of the charges and of certain rights, like the right to remain silent and the right to counsel. Normally, the judge will then consider whether to release the defendant while the proceedings are pending. (See Release on Your Own Recognizance, or "OR" and Bailing Out of Jail.) (Ark. R. Crim. P. 8.3.)
If the defendant and his or her lawyer have had a sufficient opportunity to confer or the defendant chooses to proceed without a lawyer, then the court will usually ask the defendant to enter a plea. (Ark. R. Crim. P. 8.3; see How should I plead at arraignment?)
Arraignment is a procedural formality, which the defendant may waive. Failure of a court to arraign a defendant rarely changes the outcome of the case, as long as the defendant understood the charges and wasn’t misled into pleading guilty.
Consult a Lawyer
If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, you should contact a criminal defense attorney in your area as soon as possible. An experienced lawyer can:
- fully advise you of the applicable law
- guide you through the court process
- assist in trying to get you out of jail, and
- advise you regarding charges, penalties, and any potential defenses.