If you are ever accused of a crime, it is important that you understand what happens at the arraignment. You may not have had time to meet with your lawyer yet, so the whole procedure can be confusing. There will be a lawyer, a public defender, present at the arraignment who can help you but the stress and entire situation may keep you from really understanding what is happening. In a nutshell, the arraignment is the first time you will appear before the judge. You will be informed of the charges and asked how you plead to them. Here is a brief explanation of your options for answering.
If you plead guilty, the judge ask if you understand the charge and what will happen if you accept a guilty plea. If you respond that you do, he or she will then sentence you within the limits of the law pertaining to the charge or charges. You will be taken into custody and sent to the appropriate institution. Even if you were caught in the middle of committing the crime, pleading guilty is not a good idea.
At this point, whether you are guilty or not, pleading not guilty is probably going to be in your best interest. The prosecutor may request that you be taken into custody until the trial begins if there is sufficient evidence you committed the crime and you will either harm someone or yourself, or that you will not show up to the trial. Your lawyer, or the public defender, will try to convince the judge that you are not a danger, will show up to trial and deserve to be free until proven guilty. You may need to post bail to be allowed your freedom, but it will be well worth it as the trial may not start for months or even years.
This is a plea that tells the judge that you are not admitting to the crime but understand that there is enough evidence to find you guilty. If you have had the chance to meet with a criminal defense attorney, he or she may have made arrangements with the prosecutor to reduce the charges to a lesser crime or give you a light sentence if you agree to give up your right to a trial by peers. This is called a plea bargain and can be to your advantage if a trial would lead to a lengthy prison sentence.
If you have not met with an attorney (such as Thomas A Corletta) prior to arraignment, pleading not guilty is your best option. Once you have gone over the situation and evidence with a lawyer, he or she may go to the prosecutor and ask for a plea bargain. If the prosecutor agrees, you can then change your plea to guilty or nolo contendere. However, if you plead guilty, the whole process is ended and you will be stuck serving out the sentence the judge gives you.