An arraignment is the very first step in the court process after an arrest. In most instances, the arraignment takes place within 24 hours of the arrest. It is where an arrested person sees the judge for the first time. At the arraignment, an attorney pleads not guilty on behalf of his client. It is that not guilty plea that sets the court process in motion. Everybody pleads not guilty at the arraignment — it is a formality. It is thereafter that all investigation and negotiation with the prosecutor takes place. If a deal is to be struck, it is then that the arrested person changes his or her plea to guilty. If a deal is not to be struck, the case will move on a litigation path and eventually to trial.
Arraignment courts are generally of two types — one where someone is held by the police overnight and goes to see the judge the day after arrest. The other is where a person is not held overnight by the police, but rather is given a Desk Appearance Ticket to appear in court at a future date, usually two to three weeks later. The determining factor as to which arraignment court a case will go, is usually the seriousness of the crime charged. Many of the lower level charges will be sent to the Desk Appearance Ticket court. In addition, all DWI and domestic violence cases will be held overnight to see the judge the following day, even where the case is not all that serious. It is a police department regulation which requires this, and it is adhered to in almost all cases. The only exception is where a DWI arrest is made by State Troopers and not the county police. Troopers usually send their cases to the Desk Appearance Court.
At the arraignment in either court, the defense lawyer will make a bail application on behalf of his client. This is because the judge at arraignment has the right to set bail. Bail considerations are very clear — bail is designed to insure a person comes to court for all his court dates, and to insure that a dangerous person is removed from the streets of our community. If a person is not a risk to flee and is not a danger to the community, then bail will not be set and the person will be released in his own recognizance. Alternatively, if the judge declines to set bail but wants some measure of supervision for the arrested person, he will release the person to the custody of the probation department. In lieu of paying bail, the arrested person will have to report to a probation officer during the pendency of the case.
Bail can be paid in one of two ways. Cash can be posted, in which case the cash will get returned to the person who posted it at the end of the case so long as the arrested person makes all his or her court dates. Alternatively, a bail bond can be posted. A bail bond can be issued by any number of bail bond companies. Essentially, a bail bond costs 10% of the bond amount in a non-refundable fee, and the company will want to hold some collateral in addition. For example, a bail bond of $20,000 will cost the family approximately $2,000 in a non-refundable fee, and the bonding company will want to hold a deed to a house as collateral. There are other arrangements that can be made with bond companies, and they can be quite creative since they want the business.
At an arraignment, it is important for family and friends to be present if at all possible. The lawyer will want to show the judge that his client has community support and is a highly regarded person. The lawyer will outline all the reasons bail should not be set, or at least that high bail should not be set. He will point out solid work history, cooperation with police, and any other factors which show his client is not a risk to flee or a danger to the community.