Being charged with a crime is scary. Your mind races with questions about what will happen next. Will you lose your job? Your home? Your freedom? The arraignment is at the start of any criminal case—your first appearance in court. This hearing sets the tone for the rest of your case.
But what exactly happens at an arraignment? And can you be taken straight to jail afterward? Let’s break it down.
What is an Arraignment Hearing?
An arraignment is a formal court hearing that takes place shortly after an individual is arrested and charged with a criminal offense. It is typically the defendant’s first appearance in court.
The main purposes of an arraignment are:
- To formally inform the defendant of the criminal charges against them
- To advise the defendant of their constitutional rights
- For the defendant to enter a plea
During your arraignment, you will be brought before a judge and the charges against you will be read aloud. The judge will ask you to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
Your arraignment provides the first opportunity to meet with a judge and request that bail be set or lowered. Defendants who cannot afford bail may be taken into custody until their trial date.
Arraignments are brief, straightforward hearings, usually lasting 15 minutes or less. However, the plea entered and whether bail is granted can significantly impact the path of your criminal case.
What Exactly Happens at an Arraignment?
The Defendant is Formally Charged and Notified of the Charges
The arraignment is when the formal criminal proceedings against you begin. The prosecuting attorney will read the charges that have been filed against you. Up until now, you may have only heard about the allegations from the police. This is when you will officially hear about the specific charges and their details for the first time.
The judge will also ask you to confirm your name and other biographical information to verify your identity. This is to ensure you are the person named in the complaint filed by the prosecutor.
The Judge Informs the Defendant of Their Rights
One of the judge’s main roles at an arraignment is to advise you of your constitutional rights. These include:
- The right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, the court can appoint a public defender to represent you free of charge. This right to legal counsel is essential, so don’t waive it!
- The right to remain silent. You are not required to make any statements about the case during the arraignment. Anything you say can be used against you later.
- The presumption of innocence. As the defendant, you are presumed innocent unless the prosecution can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a bedrock of our justice system.
The Defendant Enters a Plea
After hearing the charges and your rights, the judge will ask you to enter a plea. There are three options:
- Guilty – You admit guilt and waive the right to trial.
- Not guilty – You deny the charges and demand the prosecution prove the case at trial. This is the most common plea at an arraignment.
- No contest – You neither admit nor deny guilt but accept being convicted of the charges. Also called a “nolo contendere” plea.
Think carefully before entering any plea at this stage.
Bail is Set or Denied
The final step is the judge deciding whether to release you pending trial or keep you in custody. To be released, bail—a monetary amount—is typically set. You can post it yourself or use a bail bondsman. Bail ensures you return for future court dates.
If the charges are minor, you may be released on your own recognizance without needing to post bail. But for serious felonies, the judge can deny bail, meaning you go directly to jail while the case proceeds.
Factors like your criminal history, ties to the community, and flight risk help determine bail decisions. A Sacramento criminal defense attorney can argue for your release.
Can You Go to Jail After an Arraignment?
Yes, a Defendant Can Be Detained After an Arraignment
While the hope is you get to go home after your arraignment, that does not always happen. There are a few scenarios where you can be taken into custody:
- Bail is denied. For serious violent felonies, judges can order pretrial detention with no bail. You would remain in jail until the case concludes or bail is set on appeal.
- Bail is set but not posted. Most defendants are given a bail amount. But if you or your family cannot pay the full bail amount and don’t use a bail bondsman, you will be detained on pretrial.
- Violating bail conditions. If you are released pretrial but break the rules—like missing a court date or testing positive on a drug test—your bail can be revoked and you’ll be jailed.
So while detention is not guaranteed, the arraignment does carry the possibility of jail time afterward in certain circumstances.
Factors That Determine If a Defendant Will Be Detained
Judges weigh several factors when deciding on pretrial release or detention:
- Seriousness of charges – More likely to be jailed pretrial if facing severe felonies versus minor misdemeanors.
- Criminal history – Extensive past convictions make judges view defendants as greater community safety threats.
- Flight risk – Those with minimal ties to the area and means to flee are seen as bail risks.
- Public safety – Defendants accused of violent crimes or who seem unstable may be detained pretrial.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer can argue to the judge that you don’t pose a major flight or safety risk, potentially convincing them to grant a pretrial release.
Differences Between Misdemeanors and Felonies
There are notable differences in how misdemeanors and felonies are handled post-arraignment:
- Bail amounts – Felonies generally have a higher bail amount set than misdemeanors. The average felony bail is around $10,000 compared to $3,500 for misdemeanors.
- Jail time – Felony charges are more likely to result in pretrial detention or jail sentences if convicted. Misdemeanors rarely result in jail time.
So while detention is possible even on minor charges, those facing felonies have greater pretrial custody risks and need experienced legal counsel to advocate for their release.
Take Proactive Steps With Experienced Legal Counsel
Being arrested and facing criminal charges sets a complex, high-stakes legal process in motion. The choices made at your initial arraignment hearing will dictate how your case unfolds from that point forward.
Pleading guilty at arraignment leaves you vulnerable to harsh penalties without the chance to raise a complete defense. Enter a not-guilty plea to keep all options on the table whenever feasible. This allows time to negotiate with prosecutors or fully prepare for trial.
Gaining release without bail is also crucial for avoiding prolonged jail stays as your case progresses.
To discuss your best strategic options starting at your arraignment, contact The Nieves Law Firm in Sacramento. Our attorneys offer a free case review and provide skilled guidance at every stage after you are charged. Don’t navigate the criminal justice system alone. You can achieve the most favorable outcome with an aggressive legal defense.