• Andrew C. Catherman, Esq.

What is an Arraignment?

Have you heard the term arraignment tossed around before? Maybe you have a summons or ticket that says "arraignment"?


What is an arraignment?


An arraignment in its most general sense is just a type of court hearing. It's a hearing in a criminal or traffic case that carries the possibility of jail time. The specifics of what occurs at an arraignment depends upon your city/county courthouse's procedure, which level of court you're in, and whether you're at liberty or incarcerated.


The most common situation where you may find yourself going to an arraignment is if you were given a “ticket” (a summons) by a police officer for a jailable offense or were arrested and released (with a warrant) on the promise that you’ll appear in court. When this happens, often the first date you go to will be your arraignment.


Here is what to expect at an arraignment in the General District Court or Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Central Virginia.


What happens at an arraignment?


An arraignment (sometimes referred to as an advisement) is just a hearing where you’re formally advised of the charge against you and its potential punishment, as well as your right to an attorney. This is usually where you can apply for a court-appointed attorney, inform the court of your intention to hire an attorney, or waive your right to an attorney and represent yourself (usually not a good idea!) Sometimes you won’t even go in front of a judge – it may be a clerk from the courthouse you appear before. This will not be an opportunity to argue your side of the case. In most courts, the officer or witnesses involved in your case won’t even be there. Next, you’re given another court date, which is either an attorney status date (to review your attorney situation) or a trial. So it’s a good idea to get to work on your defense quickly.



Do I need an attorney at the arraignment?


There’s no requirement to have an attorney at the arraignment. In fact, even if you hire an attorney ahead of time, he/she likely won’t go with you to the arraignment (there’s nothing to accomplish other than get a court date). But it’s beneficial to have an attorney already lined up and hired. This is because your attorney can send you to the arraignment with a letter with his/her available dates. This saves you from making a separate appearance if your trial is scheduled for a day your attorney is already booked. Also, some courts will even let your attorney schedule a trial date without you going to the arraignment, saving you time, gas money, and the headache of missing work, etc.



I have an arraignment. Does that mean I’m going to jail?


No! Having an arraignment does not mean you’re definitely going to jail. It just means that you were charged with an offense that carries a possibility of jail time (but note, officers and clerks are human too, make mistakes, and can schedule you for an arraignment even if it’s not a jailable offense – consult with an attorney to make sure!) A good defense with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney can often avoid jail time, and may even avoid a conviction altogether.



Regardless of your particular situation, it never hurts to get a free consultation with an experienced Richmond criminal defense attorney. If you’re charged with a crime, whether it be reckless driving or something else, your initial consultation with Dominion Law is free. We’ll give you the information straight and review the facts of your case with you.