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What Happens at an Arraignment Hearing for a Felony?

What Happens at an Arraignment Hearing for a Felony?

Knowing what happens at an arraignment hearing for a felony allows you to prepare adequately for what lies ahead and avoid mistakes that might jeopardize your case. A felony arraignment hearing marks the beginning of your criminal case, where the court formally charges you with a felony offense. At this hearing, the court notifies you of the nature of the crime(s) you are accused of committing, informs you of your legal and constitutional rights, and asks you to enter a plea. The court also deals with bail and custody release matters.

What Is an Arraignment?

An arraignment is the first official court hearing in a criminal case proceeding, whereby a judge informs a defendant of his or her criminal charges. The defendant is also advised of his or her legal and constitutional rights and allowed to enter a plea. The court then decides the conditions of bail and release from custody. 

Minnesota requires law enforcement officers to present an in-custody defendant before a court in the county where the crime in question happened. This presentation must occur within 36 hours following the arrest, without unreasonable delays. 

The 36-hour rule applies to all arrests for misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors, and felonies. Minnesota law requires any person arrested for a misdemeanor offense and not presented before a judge within the 36-hour deadline to be released with a written citation. 

The 36-hour deadline begins counting at midnight of your arrest day. In addition to the arrest day, Sundays and public holidays are not considered when determining the 36-hour rule. 

Out-of-jail defendants might have to wait for days or weeks before the court sets the arraignment date. 

The Arraignment Process

The arraignment process for a felony in Minnesota and most jurisdictions starts with a judge informing you (the defendant) of the criminal charges filed against you. The judge will ask you whether you know the implications of the charges you are facing. If you do not, the judge will explain your charges in a clear and understandable manner before moving to the next steps. 

The judge will ask you if you have a lawyer. If you do not, you will get a court-appointed lawyer. On top of that, the judge will walk you through all your trial rights before continuing with the hearing. 

You will then enter a plea to your charges. Your plea options include no contest, guilty, or not guilty. A no-contest and guilty plea ends the criminal proceeding instantly. A no-contest plea indicates that you are ready to accept a conviction, even if you disagree that you were responsible for the criminal offense. 

A guilty plea means that you agree you are responsible for the crime in question and are ready to accept a conviction. In this scenario, the judge may sentence you immediately, especially if your case involves a minor offense. A different date might be set for sentencing if your case involves a more severe crime. 

A not-guilty plea indicates that you disagree that you committed the offense and want the prosecution to prove its case against you. If this happens, the court will determine bail or custody release conditions. 

The court may decide to release you on bond (or bail) or your personal recognizance. The court will mainly consider the following factors when determining the conditions of your release:

  • Your risk to the public;
  • Your criminal record;
  • Your employment history; 
  • Whether you have any history of ignoring court summons; and
  • Your connections to the community, including how long you have lived in the community or whether you have a family nearby.

The arraignment process ends with the judge announcing dates for future hearings. 

 Are Multiple Arraignments Possible?

Multiple arraignments might be possible in some felony cases. An example is when the prosecution team chooses to lower the charge level from first-degree sexual misconduct to second or third-degree. In this scenario, you may appear in court for a second arraignment. You then plead as you did in the first arraignment unless you have already accepted a plea deal. 

What Are the Consequences of Failing to Show Up for Arraignment? 

Failing to show up or have a lawyer show up for you when facing a misdemeanor charge amounts to a misdemeanor offense. Failing to appear for arraignment when facing a felony charge qualifies as a felony offense. 

In either case, the judge will order your arrest by issuing a warrant (bench warrant). This warrant informs you that you have disobeyed a court order, and law enforcement officers have a right to arrest you.

How to Prepare for Your Felony Arraignment Hearing in Minnesota  

An arraignment hearing sets the tone for your entire case, as it is the first formal proceeding of a criminal case. As such, you need to prepare adequately for your arraignment. The first and most crucial step in preparing for a felony arraignment hearing is to hire a felony defense lawyer

Your lawyer will ensure you understand what happens at an arraignment hearing for a felony and your legal and constitutional rights. Your lawyer will also explain what happens after an arraignment hearing for a felony. The lawyer will walk you through all legal options in your case to help you make an informed decision. The lawyer will also fight for your best interests every step of the way.

Dress appropriately for your arraignment. You can put on a suit or a shirt and pants or a skirt. Do not put on workout gear or clothing with unusual writings.  

Be at the court at least an hour early. Be ready to wait, as several other individuals might be scheduled to be arraigned on that day. 

Be attentive so that you can hear when you are called in for arraignment. Listen carefully to the judge and answer the judge’s questions appropriately. Be sure to seek clarification from the judge on anything you do not understand about the charges you are facing. Do not, however, disclose the specific details of your case. 

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