An arraignment is a defendant's first appearance in court after being formally charged. The defendant is informed of the charges and the judge decides whether there is enough evidence to hold the defendant. If the defendant does not have an attorney, the court may appoint an attorney from the Department of Assigned Counsel (DAC) to represent the defendant.
Bail and Conditions of Release
In rare circumstances, the judge may order a defendant held in custody until trial, with no possibility of pre-trial release. In most cases, however, the judge will allow the defendant to be released 1) upon his or her own recognizance, 2) into the custody of a family member or some third party, or 3) upon posting bail (or bond) in a certain dollar amount.
The reason for requiring some defendants to post bail is to help ensure their appearance at all necessary hearings and trial. When bail is required, the judge will set the amount based on such factors as the seriousness of the offense, the defendant's prior criminal record, and the likelihood that the defendant will appear as ordered, given his or her ties to the community.
Defendants who are released from custody must adhere to specific
conditions set by the judge. These conditions may include things such as
avoiding certain people or places, not drinking alcohol and
demonstrating law-abiding behavior.
Trial Preparation and Pre-Trial Motions
Between arraignment and trial, many activities occur as attorneys for
both the prosecution and defense build their cases for trial. The
discovery process is a legally-required exchange of information. Each
side reviews police reports, interviews witnesses, examines the evidence
and conducts additional investigation. A number of court proceedings
may also occur, including bail hearings, omnibus hearings, status
conferences and various hearings on related motions. Such motions
typically present legal issues regarding the admissibility of evidence.
Sometimes the parties will enter into a plea agreement in lieu of
proceeding to trial. The actual terms of a plea agreement can be complex
and may include a stipulated sentence or sentencing range and an
agreement to pay restitution. The Prosecutor's Office works to ensure
that the disposition in every case is the right one, based on the nature
and severity of the offense and the dangerousness and criminal history
of the defendant.