What Happens at an Arraignment?

by | Feb 8, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

When someone is arrested, they’re either transported to Court for the arraignment, or are issued a Desk Appearance Ticket or Summons and have to return to be arraigned on a later date. Either way, this can be a terrifying experience – not knowing if you’ll be allowed to go home afterwards, not knowing what to expect from your lawyer or the Court, and quite frankly simply not knowing what is going to happen at that arraignment. It also doesn’t help that once you’re standing in that courtroom, much of what you’re going to hear is the prosecutor and the defense attorney going back and forth citing sections of the criminal procedure law that simply sound like numbers. If you have a good attorney, he/she will explain everything to you beforehand, but what happens when your lawyer doesn’t explain what an arraignment is to you?

Well, that’s what I’m hoping to clear up a bit here today. An arraignment is essentially a hearing – although don’t get confused by the word hearing and think it’s going to be a proceeding that lasts very long. In fact, an arraignment is very different from what most people think of when the word “hearing” comes up – they’re over very quickly, no testimony is given, and the client rarely has to say very much.

The arraignment is generally your first appearance in front of the Court. The exception to this, is if you were charged with an unindicted felony (I’ll discuss indictments and Grand Jury in a separate post), then you would be arraigned a second time when your case is transferred from the Criminal or District Court to Supreme Court. At the arraignment, the first thing you’ll usually hear your attorney say is that he/she is waiving the formal reading of the rights and charges – that just means that they’re not going to make the Court read aloud all the rights and charges associated with your case. It’s general practice to do this, and I don’t think I’ve ever personally seen an attorney not waive this, so don’t be alarmed when you hear that your attorney is waiving this.

Next, you’ll hear the Prosecutor start spewing out some numbers – some of these may include 250.20, 240.30, 710.30(1)(a), 710.30(1)(b) among others. These are all notices and demands that the Prosecution is putting on the record as required by the Criminal Procedure Law to ensure that they are either able to use certain evidence, or that you, through your attorney, provide them with certain evidence. Since these are some of the more common ones, I’ll explain them briefly now.

CPL § 250.20 notice is the Prosecution demanding that you provide them with notice of an alibi. Under the law you have a certain time period within which you must put the Prosecutor on notice that you are going to be claiming an alibi at trial. CPL § 240.30 notice is the Prosecutor demanding that your attorney present him/her with any reciprocal discovery materials that you might intend on introducing at trial. CPL § 190.50 notice is notice that the DA intends on presenting your case to the Grand Jury and indicting it – this is typically accompanied with a date/time so that you have an opportunity to testify before the Grand Jury on your own behalf. CPL § 710.30(1)(a), commonly referred to as “statement notice” is the DA serving you notice that they intend on offering, at trial, a statement that you made to law enforcement. And finally, CPL § 710.30(1)(b) is the DA putting you on notice that they intend on using evidence of an identification procedure, whether it be a line-up, show-up, photo array, or otherwise, at trial. Then, after the Prosecutor is finished serving you their notices, your attorney has an opportunity to serve yours – typically this is going to be cross § 190.50 notice which essentially means that you do in fact intend on testifying in the Grand Jury.

After all these numbers are thrown out, you may hear some talk by the Prosecutor saying he/she has or hasn’t “certified discovery” and is or isn’t “ready for trial.” That phrase “ready for trial” is a misleading one for someone who isn’t familiar with the Court system – it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be going to trial right this second, what it means is that the DA has complied with all their statutory requirements and in theory are ready to proceed with the trial. It also pauses speedy trial time – which is a whole different topic that warrants a post on its own.

After all of this, the judge will finally ask the Prosecutor for their recommendation on bail. This is probably the moment that you’ve been dreading, and probably the moment that you’re most familiar with either from the media or television. What you should know about bail is that under NYS law there are some offenses that are eligible for bail to be set, and some offenses that are not. Your attorney will (or should) know whether your charges are bail eligible offenses and will be prepared to argue that bail should not be set on a non-eligible offense. If you are alleged to have committed a bail eligible offense though, then you will hear the Prosecutor start talking about your criminal background, whether you’ve warranted in the past, and whether you are unlikely to return to Court to answer the charges against you. Your attorney will (or should) reply with their counter argument, highlighting all the reasons that you will come back to Court every time. Once bail is decided, then you will typically either be released or held, and your case will be adjourned to the next date. Your arraignment is over, and now it’s time to fight your case.

I hope this information is helpful to those trying to understand an arraignment, if you have any questions regarding an arraignment or are seeking legal counsel, as always please feel free to contact my office at any time.