Do I need a lawyer for my arraignment in Arkansas? What is an arraignment?

What is an arraignment in Arkansas?

An arraignment is the reading of the indictment, which is the charges and punishment range, to the defendant and the asking of him or her if he or she pleads guilty or not guilty to the indictment. See Ark. Code Annotated § 16-85-701.  The punishment range for a class A misdemeanor for example, is up to 1 year in the county jail and a $2,500 fine.

Can I tell my side of the story to judge at my arraignment in Arkansas?

No.  You will be allowed to say one of two phrases: “Guilty.” or “Not Guilty.” If you try to do anything else, you will be cut off and not allowed to speak further.

 

Can I negotiate my plea deal or guilty plea at arraignment in Arkansas?

No.  In fact, I highly doubt the prosecutor will even be there. They will allow you to plead guilty at a District Court Arraignment, however you will be sentenced by the judge right then an there, without any debate or say in the matter about why your case should be treated any differently than anyone else’s.

You will not even be allowed to plead guilty in any Circuit Court at your arraignment, and depending on the charge in District Court you might not be allowed to plead guilty at arraignment there either.

Do I have to go to my arraignment in Arkansas?

Most likely not. If you hire an attorney, you typically do not have to go to your arraignment. There are a few exceptions, for example Washington County Circuit Court (where felony charges are lodged) requires you to appear at your arraignment, even if you hire an attorney. However, all of the District Courts in Washington County (where misdemeanor charges are lodged) do not require you to appear for arraignment as long as you hire an attorney. In fact, I’ve never heard of a District Court requiring you to show up to arraignment if you were already represented by counsel.

“The arraignment shall only be made in indictments for felonies and misdemeanors and may be dispensed with by the court, with the defendant’s consent.”

Ark. Code Ann. § 16-85-702

I’m guilty and have no defenses, should I go to court and plead guilty without an attorney or attempt to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor on my own?

No. There are lots of ways an attorney can negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor that a layman simply cannot. An attorney can research your case and find ways to get a not guilty that you are simply not aware of, even if you admitted guilt to police officers investigating the case.  Additionally, there are some excuses that you might use to get a better plea deal that will infuriate some prosecutors, such as immigration status. Some prosecutors see illegal alien status as an aggravating factor to committing a crime, not one that should be considered for leniency.

One of the best ways to get a good plea deal from a prosecutor is to convince them they have a bad case or to threaten to take the case to trial. Prosecutors are insanely busy and most will try to keep a clean docket free of trials.

Do I have to go to court to plead guilty?

For a felony, yes. For a misdemeanor, it depends, but most likely not. For example, in Sebastian County, you are going to have to show up for everything but maybe the most minor of traffic tickets, but in Washington County, you only have to show up for misdemeanors that can become felonies if you commit them again, those are called enhanceable offenses, like Domestic Battery, Driving While Intoxicated, Cruelty to Animals, and Possession of Controlled Substance/Marijuana (even though this is enhanceable, most District Courts in Washington County will let you plead guilty through your attorney without showing up).

Do you have an arraignment in Van Buren District Court, Fort Smith District Court, or Fayetteville District Court coming up? Call one of our Arkansas Criminal Defense attorneys now at (479) 782-1125

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