What Happens at an Arraignment? What to Expect

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Did you receive a notice of your arraignment? If so, you’re probably wondering what an arraignment is, and what to expect at an arraignment.

If you’re familiar with the movie “My Cousin Vinny,” the arraignment is the scene where Joe Pesci’s character, Vincent Gambino, appears in court for the first time in his career.

All Judge Haller wants to know is whether Vinny’s clients will plead guilty or not guilty, but Vinny keeps trying to explain that they’re innocent and he ends up in jail for contempt.

While this may not be a completely accurate portrayal of your typical arraignment, what holds true is that an arraignment is a relatively simple procedure.

What Happens at an Arraignment?

First of all, what exactly is an arraignment? The arraignment is the beginning of a criminal case, including criminal traffic violations.

It is a formal hearing in a courtroom in front of a judge. The arraignment usually must happen within two business days after the arrest.

At the arraignment, the judge informs you of the charges and possible consequences. They will also inform you of the following constitutional rights:

  • To hire an attorney or be provided with a public defender (except for infractions);
  • To confront and cross-examine any witnesses;
  • To not incriminate yourself; 
  • To reasonable bail; and
  • To a speedy trial.


For infractions, you will not get a jury trial or a public defender. You can usually post bail or plead not guilty by mail.

You can schedule a trial without appearing for an arraignment, but you may have to pay the full bail. The money will be returned to you if you are found not guilty.


For most misdemeanors, your attorney can usually appear on your behalf at the arraignment.  But there are some exceptions, like domestic violence charges or misdemeanor sex offense matters.

To be certain, ask your attorney if you need to appear for your arraignment.


You must appear in court at an arraignment for felony charges.  After the judge reads your charges, they will ask you for your plea.

You can plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. You can also ask for a continuance to consult with an attorney before you plead.

They can explain what each plea means, and what the consequences might be.

What Happens if You Plead Guilty at an Arraignment?

If you plead guilty, you waive your right to a trial. The judge issues your sentence and enters your conviction on the court record. 

You could also plead no contest, which means that you accept the punishment but you are not admitting guilt.

The judge issues your sentence and enters your conviction just like with a guilty plea. However, a plea of no contest is not usable in other legal matters.

For example, if you are arraigned for a traffic accident where you hit another driver and you plead no contest, the other driver could not use your plea as evidence of your guilt in a civil case.

What Happens if You Plead Not Guilty at an Arraignment?

If you plead not guilty, the court will schedule more hearings to prepare for a trial.

If you are already in custody, you could be released on your “own recognizance” (O.R.) where you promise to return to court on a specific date.

The judge could also set bail and send you back to jail until the money is posted. Or the judge could refuse to set bail and send you back to jail.

The judge will base their decision on several factors, including the seriousness of the charges and whether they think you are a flight risk.

How Can an Attorney Help?

An experienced criminal attorney can be a huge asset at your arraignment. For most misdemeanors, they can appear on your behalf so you will not even have to go to court.

Your attorney can make the best arguments to the judge to have your bail reduced or for you to be trusted to be released from custody while your case is pending.

They can discuss your case with the prosecution and possibly even work out a resolution without going to trial.

If you must go to trial, your attorney can request an extension of time so they can review the discovery with you, investigate the case, and file any necessary pretrial motions.  

Contact the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC 

The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, practices only criminal defense.

Additionally, attorney Kerry L. Armstrong is a criminal law specialist certified by the State Bar of California. 

Our team of experienced criminal defense attorneys is willing to do whatever it takes to protect your rights.

One of our expert lawyers will evaluate your case and help you make the best decision for your situation. Contact us to schedule your consultation. 

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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