An arraignment is simply your first appearance in local criminal court after charges have been filed. It is the beginning of the process. New York Criminal Procedure Law Section 170 lays out the purpose and procedure of an arraignment. An arraignment is not a trial. No evidence or witnesses are presented. Typically the most important aspect of the arraignment is the determination of bail.

A strong defense starts early. You are not required to have an attorney present at your arraignment. However, you have the right to have an attorney, and The Blanch Law firm strongly encourages you to do so, no matter how serious the charges. Your financial and physical freedom is at risk. You should have an attorney who knows the law at your side from the beginning, particularly if the court is going to set your bail. If you arrive at an arraignment without an attorney and decide you need one, you can delay the hearing while you obtain either a private attorney or one provided by the court.

Any felony or misdemeanor charges under New York law that are filed by the police, prosecutor or public officials enforcing motor vehicle, recreation and environmental laws require an arraignment.

The defendant in most criminal cases is required to attend the arraignment. The exception is a “simplified information” case that involves lesser crimes, such as motor vehicle or environmental violations. If you have been issued a ticket or summons, your attorney can attend the arraignment in your place.

The arraignment process is very quick but is very serious. A judge explains or has someone else explain the charges against you. You are provided with a copy of the accusations. The judge also explains your rights and what rights are at risk because of the charges (you may go to jail or lose your driving privileges, etc.).

The judge determines whether bail is necessary, and if so, how much. Bail is a payment held by the court to guarantee that you return for trial. The judge considers the seriousness of the charge, prior criminal record, the defendant’s ties to the community and the likelihood that the defendant will fail to appear, the higher the bail. In many cases, the judge releases the defendant on his own recognizance, which means he gives his word that he will appear for future court proceedings. The prosecutor will recommend a bail amount to the judge. The bail that is set at the arraignment typically is not reduced at a later time, so it is vital that a fair bail be set at this point. If bail is set and you cannot afford the amount, either on your own or with the help of a bail bondsman, you will be held in jail until your case is resolved.