What happens when my case is called?
Subject to local variation, most arraignments tend to unfold as follows: When the judge calls the defendant’s case, the bailiff normally directs the defendant where to stand. The judge reads the charge; at that time a defendant who has not already gotten one usually receives a written copy of the complaint (the charge) and the written report prepared by the arresting officer (the arrest report). The judge then asks the defendant if she has an attorney or wants the court to appoint one. Upon learning that the defendant wants to self-represent, the judge then asks the defendant to enter a plea. Defendants usually plead not guilty at arraignment. (See How should I plead at arraignment?) However, a self-represented defendant alternatively may:
- ask for a continuance of a week or two
- in unusual circumstances, make a motion to dismiss the case, or
- plead guilty (or no contest).
Assuming that the defendant enters a plea, the judge typically schedules the next court appearance. After a not guilty plea, the next appearance may be for a pretrial conference, a preliminary examination, or a trial date, depending on local procedures and whether the case involves a felony or a misdemeanor. In the event of a guilty plea, the judge may pronounce sentence immediately, or schedule a later “sentencing hearing,” which occurs after a probation officer investigates a defendant’s background and submits a report.
If the arraignment is combined with a bail hearing, which is typical, the judge will set bail at some point in the course of the arraignment. If the defendant’s bail status has already been determined, the judge normally concludes the arraignment by continuing that same status.