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What is a Felony Arraignment Hearing?

Posted by Shawn Hamp | Jun 17, 2012 | 0 Comments

If you are charged with a criminal felony in the Mohave County Superior Court, one of the first criminal proceedings that you will face is an Arraignment Hearing.  An Arraignment Hearing is scheduled after a grand jury indictment has been filed in the Superior Court or a criminal complaint in a justice court has been bound over into the Superior Court via a felony information prepared by the prosecutor or the County Attorney's office.  If a defendant is in custody, an arraignment must be held within ten days of a felony information or an indictment has been filed or thirty days if a defendant is not in custody.  If you receive a criminal summons or a notice of filing of a felony information, the Arraignment is the first hearing in series of pretrial hearings scheduled in a felony criminal case.

Rule 14.3 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure govern the procedures that take place at an Arraignment Hearing as follows:

The court shall:

a. Ascertain the defendant's plea of not guilty, guilty, or no contest. Unless the defendant pleads guilty or no contest, the court shall enter a plea of not guilty.

b. Hear and decide motions concerning the conditions of release under Rule 7. Unless the arraignment is held in conjunction with the defendant's initial appearance before a magistrate under Rule 4.2, a contested release motion shall be heard upon at least 5 days prior notice, unless such time is waived by all parties.

c. Set the date for trial or pretrial conference.

d. Advise the parties in writing of the dates set for further proceedings and other important deadlines.

e. Advise the defendant of the right to be present at all future proceedings, that proceedings may be held in the defendant's absence, or that defendant may be charged with an offense and a warrant issued for defendant's arrest without further notice.

f. Advise the defendant of the right to jury trial, if applicable.

Rule 14.3, Ariz. R. Crim Pro.

Let's examine each of these procedures in some further detail.

a.  “Ascertain the defendant's plea of not guilty, guilty, or no contest.”

At the arraignment, the defendant is formally given notice and apprised of the charges against him or her.  The sentence range of the offenses is also explained to the defendant.  After the Court has advised the defendant of the alleged offenses and the sentence range for them, the Court will inquire with the defendant whether they will plead guilty or not guilty to the charges.

It is almost always advised to clients and defendants to enter a not guilty plea at this stage of the proceedings.  A defendant is always presumed innocent until proven guilty, a guilty plea at this stage of the proceedings will negate the presumption of innocence.  A defendant is entitled to discovery and learn what the State's evidence is against him or her.  By pleading guilt prematurely at an Arraignment hearing, a defendant is giving up his or her right to learn what evidence would be presented at trial.  Without the advice of an Attorney and the ability to review the State's evidence, a defendant would be foregoing a substantial right in a criminal proceeding by pleading gulty at this stage of the proceedings.  It is strongly recommended that all defendants enter a not guilty plea at this stage, and the court will enter a not guilty plea if a defendant is not certain of entering a guilty or no contest plea.

b.  “Hear and decide motions concerning the conditions of release”

If the court has not yet determined release conditions, it may do so at the Arraignment Hearing.  Most defendants have their release conditions determined at an initial appearance proceedings that occur within 24 hours after an initial arrest in the justice court.  Defendants who have not been arrested and receive a summons by the Superior Court, the Arraignment may be the first formal court hearing that they attend and therefore the first time that a Court may determine what release conditions are appropriate.

Depending on different factors a court may decide that a defendant may be released on their own recognisance or that a bond is necessary to guarantee the defendant's appearance at all future hearings.  Usually if a defendant appears at their arraignment after receiving a summons, it is normal practice for a court to release them on their own recognisance (OR) release, since the defendant has demonstrated that they are willing and able to appear for a scheduled court appearance, however depending on the nature of the allegations or the criminal history of a defendant this may not always be guaranteed.  A court will usually enter some conditions of release so that the defendant may have to remain in the Court's jurisdiction while the criminal proceedings are ongoing.

c.  “Set the date for trial or pretrial”, d.  “Advise the parties in writing of dates of further proceedings and other important deadlines”, and e.  “Advise the defendant of the right to be present at all future proceedings, that proceedings may be held in the defendant's absence, or that defendant may be charged with an offense and a warrant issued for defendant's arrest without further notice.”

The court will set the date for the trial or a pretrial hearing, so that the defendant will have notice of the next court date in their proceedings.  In Mohave County the next court hearing that is scheduled is called a case management hearing.  In Mohave County Superior Court, a trial date is not usually set until after several pretrial court hearing have occured.  In other criminal courts in Arizona, the hearing dates as scheduled may be different.  Deadlines for pretrial motions and discovery have deadlines set by the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure, but the court may set alternative deadlines for these type of procedures to facilitate the Court's scheduling and docket management.  A defendant is apprised of these deadlines so that he or she can meaningfully consult with their attorney or counsel in a reasonable time frame about their case.

A criminal defendant may be ordered to attend all future court proceedings, unless they formarly waive their right to be present with the court.  A defendant is advised of their right to be present and formally advised of the future court date so that if a defendant does fail to appear at a future court date, the court may determine that the defendand had waived their right to be present.  If a defendant had not formally waived the right to be present prior to a scheduled hearing, the court may issue a warrant for arrest if a defendant knowingly fails to appear for any court hearing they formally had notice of.

f.   “Advise the defendant of the right to jury trial, if applicable”

All defendants charged with a felony offense have a right to a trial by jury in Arizona.  Some misdemeanor offenses in the justice court also have a right to a jury trial in limited circumstances.  At the Arraignment Hearing, a defendant is always advised of their right to a jury trial.  In addition to this right, a defendant is advised of their right to counsel, and the right to have counsel appointed if they cannot afford an attorney.  Understanding your rights in a criminal proceeding is fundamentally important when an individual's personal liberty is at stake.  The primary importance of the Arraignment Hearing is so that the defendant has formal notice of the charges against him or her and so that he or she understands their rights in the criminal process as the litigation proceedings formally begin.

The Law Office of Shawn B. Hamp is focused to defending DUI, Drug & criminal charges in Arizona, within Northwestern Arizona and Mohave County including the cities of Kingman, Bullhead City, and Lake Havasu City Arizona.

This post was intended to provide general information only and is not intended as specific legal advice. You should not rely upon this information alone, but should consult legal counsel regarding the application of the laws and regulations discussed and as applied to your specific case or circumstances.

About the Author

Shawn Hamp

President and lead counsel for the Law Offices of Shawn B. Hamp, P.C. (An Arizona Professional Corporation), Shawn Hamp has practiced law for more than 15 years with an emphasis in criminal law. An experienced trial attorney, Mr. Hamp has been lead counsel in hundreds of criminal trials and court...

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