Arraignment is a formal reading of the criminal charging document (information or indictment) in the presence of the defendant. This hearing is to inform the accused of the charges against him or her. In response to the reading of the charges, the accused is required to enter a formal plea. At the arraignment, the court will not take testimony of witnesses or hear defenses. The only purpose of the hearing is to inform the accused of the charges against them and to accept a formal plea.
The accused can choose not to challenge the charges and accept responsibility by pleading guilty or no contest. If the accused enters such a plea, they will not be able to challenge or fight the charges. The court will then move to a sentencing hearing. In almost all case, the defendant will enter a plea of Not Guilty. This will allow the accused to challenge the charges and begin the discovery phase of the case. Pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure a defendant thru their attorney can file a Written Plea of Not Guilty and Waiver of Arraignment. This will cancel the hearing and begin the litigation phase of the case.
A guilty plea is exactly what you might expect it to be. It is where the accused tells the court that they did commit the crime(s) that they are charged with and that they wish to resolve their case.
Nolo Contendere or No Contest (Best Interest Plea)
A No contest plea is a plea of convenience. It is a plea from the accused where they say that they are not saying that they committed the crime (Guilty plea) and they are not saying they didn’t commit the crime (Not Guilty plea) but rather that the accused believes that it is in their best interest to resolve the case. There are many reasons why a person might enter a No Contest plea such as overwhelming evidence, preserving their right to challenge a constitutional issue on appeal and etc.
***In my professional legal opinion, no defendant should ever plead guilty or no contest at arraignment. At the arraignment hearing, the accused and their attorney will not have had an opportunity to engage in discovery. Without evaluating the merits of the case, how could a lawyer give adequate legal advice with regards to a guilty or no contest plea at arraignment.
A plea of Not Guilty is entered in the majority of cases at arraignment. It is where the defendant tells the court that they did not commit the crime charged and that they are going to challenge the evidence and the constitutionality of the police procedures stemming from the arrest and investigation. A Not Guilty plea at arraignment does not automatically mean that the defendant’s case will go to trial but rather that they will engage in discovery and litigation.
For more information or the arraignment process please call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney David J. Sobel at 954-383-3000.