After a person is arrested on suspicion of a crime in California, he or she will appear in front of a judge. This appearance is called the “arraignment.” You have the right to have an experienced California criminal defense attorney represent you at the arraignment.
During the arraignment, the judge will explain what charges you face, what your constitutional rights are, and that you may have the court appoint an attorney for you if you can’t afford one. By choosing your own attorney, however, you get the chance to find someone you feel comfortable working with. You also have the chance to have your lawyer attend your arraignment with you and deal with the judge on your behalf.
At the arraignment, you can also enter a plea. Although you can enter a plea of “guilty” or “no contest,” most people enter a plea of “not guilty” at their arraignment. The “not guilty” plea buys you time to find evidence and witnesses in your favor. It is often wise to enter a plea of not guilty even if you think you did something wrong. The arraignment is only the first step in the case, and there may be evidence that demonstrates your innocence that you and your attorney have not found yet.
If you are in custody when you are arraigned, the judge will also decide whether or not to set bail. If the judge sets bail, he or she will also set the amount. In some cases, a person is released on his or her “own recognizance.” Being released on your own recognizance does not require anyone to pay bail for you, but it does require you to keep your promise to come back to court on your next scheduled court date.