What Happens at an Arraignment Hearing
District Court Arraignment
The first court appearance for a person charged with a criminal offense is the arraignment hearing. The arraignment generally takes place in the District Court for the jurisdiction in which the crime was alleged to have occurred. If a person has been arrested, they will be taken by the police to the district court for an arraignment, or a video arraignment is held from the jail where the defendant is being held by way of a video link to the court. The defendant is held in custody until a bond is set and/or the arraignment takes place.
If a criminal charge has been issued, but the person has not been arrested, most courts have set times that a person can arrive at the court to be arraigned. In certain cases, however, an attorney can waive the arraignment hearing (allowing you to avoid having to appear in court for the arraignment), but this is only available regarding select charges and only in courts that accept waivers of arraignment.
What Happens at Arraignment?
The purpose of an arraignment hearing is to inform the accused of the nature of the charge, the maximum penalty if convicted, their constitutional rights and to set bond. The Michigan Court Rule states:
The court at the arraignment must
(1) inform the accused of the nature of the offense charged, and its maximum possible prison sentence and any mandatory minimum sentence required by law;
(2) if the accused is not represented by a lawyer at the arraignment, advise the accused that
(a) the accused has a right to remain silent,
(b) anything the accused says orally or in writing can be used against the accused in court,
(c) the accused has a right to have a lawyer present during any questioning consented to, and
(d) if the accused does not have the money to hire a lawyer, the court will appoint a lawyer for the accused;
(3) advise the accused of the right to a lawyer at all subsequent court proceedings and, if appropriate, appoint a lawyer;
(4) set a date for a probable cause conference not less than 7 days or more than 14 days after the date of the arraignment and set a date for preliminary examination not less than 5 days or more than 7 days after the date of the probable cause conference;
(5) determine what form of pretrial release, if any, is appropriate; and
(6) ensure that the accused has had biometric data collected as required by law.
The court may not question the accused about the alleged offense or request that the accused enter a plea.
The defendant also enters one of the following initial pleas: not guilty, stand mute (treated the same as a ‘not guilty’ plea), guilty or no contest. If a person has hired an attorney or is planning on hire an attorney, a ‘not guilty’ or ‘standing mute’ plea is entered.
Can You go to Jail at an Arraignment?
The answer to that question depends upon the court’s determination regarding pretrial release and whether you can afford to pay the bond that is set. The court has three options:
Denial of pretrial release;
Release on personal recognizance or an unsecured appearance bond;
Release conditionally with or without money bail.
Denial of Pretrial Release
In cases involving murder, treason or certain violent felony charges, the court may deny pretrial release. In those cases, the accused remains in jail until their case is resolved or an attorney convinces a judge to change the initial denial of pretrial release.
The court can order the release of a defendant on personal recognizance (frequently referred to as a ‘PR bond’) subject to the conditions that the defendant appear in court as required, not leave the state without the court’s permission and not commit any crime while released. If a court grants a personal recognizance bond, the Defendant is not required to post any money bail.
If the court determines that a personal recognizance bond won’t reasonably ensure the appearance of the defendant or ensure the safety of the public, the court can release a defendant subject to certain conditions which may include requiring the defendant to:
(a) make reports to a court agency as are specified by the court or the agency;
(b) not use alcohol or illicitly use any controlled substance;
(c) participate in a substance abuse testing or monitoring program;
(d) participate in a specified treatment program for any physical or mental condition, including substance abuse;
(e) comply with restrictions on personal associations, place of residence, place of employment, or travel;
(f) surrender driver’s license or passport;
(g) comply with a specified curfew;
(h) continue to seek employment;
(i) continue or begin an educational program;
(j) remain in the custody of a responsible member of the community who agrees to monitor the defendant and report any violation of any release condition to the court;
(k) not possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon;
(l) not enter specified premises or areas and not assault, beat, molest or wound a named person or persons;
(m) comply with any condition limiting or prohibiting contact with any other named person or persons.
(n) satisfy any injunctive order made a condition of release; or
(o) comply with any other condition, including the requirement of money bail.
Posting a bond is a promise that the defendant will appear in court when required and abide by the bond conditions. When the court requires that money bail be posted, it can be in the following forms:
Cash Bond. The defendant (or someone willing to pay the bond amount) has to pay the full amount of the bond set by the court before being released from jail.
Ten Percent Bond. The Defendant pays 10% of the bail amount. For example, a $5,000 bond with a 10 percent provision would require that $500 be paid to the court in order to be released. If the Defendant fails to appear as required, the court will require payment of the remaining ninety percent.
Surety Bond. A surety bond is posted by a bail bondsman on behalf of the defendant. A surety bond is a promise made by the bondsman that the defendant will appear as required. When a bail bondsman pays bail for the release of a defendant, the bondsman charges a fee to the defendant and will require the defendant have adequate collateral to pay back the full bail amount in the event that the defendant fails to appear in court.
How Does the Court Determine the Type of Bond?
The two primary issues regarding the setting of bond are: is the defendant a flight risk and is the defendant a danger to the community? If a defendant has failed to appear for court in the past, has outstanding warrants or is charged with a serious offense, the more likely that the court will require the posting of a large bond and/or impose a lot of bond conditions. The specific factors under the Michigan Court Rules that the court considers are:
(a) defendant’s prior criminal record, including juvenile offenses;
(b) defendant’s record of appearance or nonappearance at court proceedings or flight to avoid prosecution;
(c) defendant’s history of substance abuse or addiction;
(d) defendant’s mental condition, including character and reputation for dangerousness;
(e) the seriousness of the offense charged, the presence or absence of threats, and the probability of conviction and likely sentence;
(f) defendant’s employment status and history and financial history insofar as these factors relate to the ability to post money bail;
(g) the availability of responsible members of the community who would vouch for or monitor the defendant;
(h) facts indicating the defendant’s ties to the community, including family ties and relationships, and length of residence, and
(i) any other facts bearing on the risk of nonappearance or danger to the public.
What Happens After Being Arraigned
After you have been arraigned on a misdemeanor charge, the case will be set for a pretrial conference. The pretrial conference is usually set within a few weeks after arraignment. A pretrial conference is a meeting between the prosecutor and your attorney to determine if there is a way to resolve your case without a trial, such as through a plea bargain.
At a felony arraignment, the court will set two subsequent dates: a probable cause conference and a preliminary examination. The probable cause conference is very similar to a pretrial conference as the prosecutor and defense counsel discuss possible resolutions to the case. If the case isn’t resolved at the probable cause conference, it may either be waived to circuit court or proceed to preliminary examination.
Preliminary Examination. At a preliminary examination on a felony charge, the prosecutor has the burden of presenting evidence in court to prove that there is probable cause to believe that the crime charge occurred and probable cause to believe that the accused is the person who committed the crime.
What if I Have to Travel?
If you haven’t been charged, you are free to travel, however, if a warrant is issued while you are traveling and you have contact with law enforcement, you may be taken into custody. If a criminal charge has been issued, but haven’t been arraigned yet, your attorney may be able to either waive the arraignment, arrange to have you arraigned at a time that meets with your travel schedule or seek authorization from the court at the arraignment to allow for you to travel.
Do you need an attorney at an arraignment? An experienced criminal defense attorney can make the difference between walking out of court after your arraignment and sitting in jail while your case proceeds through the court. Being locked up can have a very negative impact upon your decision-making progress.
When faced with the potentially grave consequence of being in jail while your case is pending, it is highly advisable to have an experienced attorney at your side when you are arraigned. We have decades of experience in handling arraignment proceedings and we know what it takes to protect your freedom. Give us a call today at (248) 865-9640.