What is an Arraignment in Georgia?
If you have been charged with a crime in Georgia then you have been given your first court date, an arraignment date. This is when your case begins and is one the first crucial time periods in your defense.
Understanding Arraignment in Georgia:
An arraignment is the start of the criminal prosecution in your DUI case or any other criminal case. Many times, the arraignment is literally only a couple of days after a person’s arrest. Most of the time, it is scheduled for several weeks later. Whether your arraignment is next week or in a few months, it is important to speak with an attorney right away.
The Importance of Hiring an Attorney Before Arraignment:
At an arraignment, your Georgia Criminal Lawyer will enter an initial plea. The initial plea, no matter how you ultimately decide to resolve your case, will be a plea of not guilty. The initial plea of not guilty, accompanied by the filing of appropriate discovery motions, will allow your Georgia Criminal Lawyer to get access to the incident report, arrest videos, toxicology reports, Brady Material (exculpatory evidence), scientific reports, witness statements, and all other evidence related to your case.
In State Court and Superior Court, generally there is only one arraignment, but occasionally, a person is given a one-time continuance to hire an attorney. No one should count on a reset of his or her case. Many times judges will force a person to enter a not guilty plea to move the case on to the next stage, which would include motions and potentially a trial. However, things are different in Georgia’s municipal courts.
In municipal court, there are often multiple arraignments that are used to move the case along to its resolution. The reason there can be more than one arraignment is that some cases are reset so that the State’s attorney (solicitor) can respond to discovery requests and keep the lines of communication and negotiation open. Once a case comes to a head, and the accused is forced to enter a plea of some kind, the time to negotiate in municipal court ends. The defendant must then choose to accept an agreement (negotiated plea) in municipal court or bind-over to the case to the State or Superior Court for trial.
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You have an absolute right to attend your arraignment and an absolute right to be formally arraigned. A formal arraignment is when the court reads aloud all of the charges against you. Although very rare, this is your right. You also have the right to stand mute and not enter a plea once formally arraigned. If you do not enter a plea, the judge will enter a not guilty plea in the record on your behalf. Failure to enter a plea will not stop the criminal process. To be clear, in the modern world, formal arraignment is antiquated and unnecessary. Today, people that request formal arraignment are usually viewed as having a misunderstanding of the process.
Arraignment is an Important Stage in Your Georgia Criminal Case:
The reason arraignment is so important has to do with the filing of motions. Motions are both substantive and procedural. The procedural motions include the plea of not guilty, and the discovery motions filed. Again, discovery motions are the means in which the defense compels the production of evidence, scientific reports, and witness statements. Failure to file the correct motions can result in the defense waiving their right to see the evidence in the case.
The substantive motions are even more important. In a criminal case, the entire defense can come down to filing and argue the correct motions. Many people have cases that appear un-defendable at first glance. But if the police officer did not follow all of the correct procedures in the case, some or all of that evidence may be suppressed. With a successful motion to suppress, the prosecutor will have less evidence that is used in the case against you. That is why the filing and arguing of substantive motions can make the entire difference in the case.
At, or before arraignment, the defense must file all motions. This includes both substantive and procedural motions. This is why it is imperative to hire a Georgia Criminal lawyer prior to your arraignment. If you appear at arraignment unrepresented, you may waive your right to file the motions in your case that could potentially mean the difference between an acquittal and a conviction.
Many people express concern when we tell them that we plan to “waive arraignment.” The concern would appear warranted when reading about the importance of arraignment outlined in this article. However, the term “waiving arraignment” is misleading because it has nothing to do with waiving the right outlined above. It simply means that instead of appearing in person, your lawyer will file all of the correct motions prior to the actual court date. Additionally, your attorney will file a plea of “not guilty” in writing. So, in effect, your arraignment occurs without your actual appearance.
Our clients ask us every day if their failure to appear in court will result in a violation of their bond. People are afraid that a warrant will be issued for their arrest for failing to appear in court. Many times the bondsman calls the day before to remind you of court and your obligation. The bonding company means well, but other than helping people get released after arrest, they do not participate in the proceedings thereafter. To be a bondsman, there is no legal training and their admonitions have no bearing on your case.
We understand the fear, but it is unwarranted. For courts that allow Georgia Criminal Lawyers to waive arraignment, the filed waiver excuses all parties involved. There is no cause for concern when your lawyer waives your arraignment. However, never forget that you will later have mandatory court appearances. Waiving arraignment only excuses the defense from the initial court date.
You need to hire a Georgia Criminal Lawyer right away if you have been charged with a crime. Give us a call right away 762-323-1460.