An arraignment is the brief hearing that starts the courtroom phase of a criminal prosecution. It is the court appearance where you are officially notified of the specific charges against you, and it is where you will enter a plea of either “guilty” or “not guilty.”
The following things typically happen at an arraignment hearing:
- You will be provided with a written copy of the charges against you (either a copy of the ticket, or the indictment)
- Your lawyer situation will be discussed (whether you intend to hire a lawyer, or you are eligible for assistance by the public defender)
- You will enter a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty”
- Your trial dates will be set
- The judge may discuss your bail situation (leaving you out on bail, or possibly lowering it)
Guess what? You can stand there like a dummy and not say anything if you want! I guess that has happened before, and so Mississippi law provides that the court will enter a plea of “not guilty” for you if you refuse or neglect to plead.
Can an arraignment be waived?
Arraignments in felony cases cannot be waived; you must be there in person. Alexander v. State, 226 So.2d 905 (Miss. 1969). But most arraignment proceedings in misdemeanor cases can be waived. In fact, in most DUI and misdemeanor cases I usually try to waive this appearance for my clients and save them an extra trip to court. This practice varies from court to court, however.
My case is just a big misunderstanding. Can I get the charges dismissed before I am arraigned?
It is possible, but you are probably going to have to get a lawyer to help you. Most public defenders are not appointed or involved in a case until at or after the arraignment, so if you want to bring the discrepancies of your case to the prosecutor’s attention with the intent to get it dropped, you will most likely need to hire a lawyer to investigate and negotiate for you before your first court appearance.
My lawyer got my case dismissed before arraignment. They can’t come get me again on these same charges because of double jeopardy, right?
Wrong. “Jeopardy” does not “attach” in Mississippi until a jury is empaneled and sworn in a jury trial, or until the first witness is sworn in if only the judge is deciding the case. This means that you can be rearrested for the same crime – based on new evidence, or some other reason – as long as the statute of limitations has not run on the crime.
Your arraignment is your cue to start looking for a lawyer, if you don’t already have one. If you are indigent (broke), the judge will appoint the public defender for you. But most judges will give you a small amount of time to go hire a lawyer if that is your request.
Don’t stress your arraignment. It’s best to hire a lawyer as soon as possible in the criminal process, but if you wait until at or shortly after your arraignment that is probably fine. I handle state criminal and DUI cases throughout the state of Mississippi, and I do federal criminal defense work nationwide. If I can assist you please do not hesitate to call me at 601-991-1099. I am here to help.