What to Expect at an Arraignment Hearing in Utah

An arraignment is a short, procedural step in your criminal case in Utah. Depending on the level of charge – felony or misdemeanor – this will occur at different stages. The arraignment is when you are informed of the charges against you. This may happen quite quickly after your arrest, and always involves a judge. While this is an important step in your court battle, it is not always a place for serious challenges, and is usually a brief, procedural event. Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer Darwin Overson explains what you should expect at your arraignment in Utah.

What is an Arraignment?

An arraignment is an event in the criminal trial process where the defendant appears before a judge, and the judge lists the charges against them. At this point, the judge will ask how the defendant pleads, and their plea will be recorded.

The purpose of an arraignment is to help you. Many of the procedural and technical things in the criminal justice system are there as protections. If the government were allowed to do what it wanted without considering the defendant, criminal cases would be extremely unfair and biased against the defendant. An arraignment is important, because it is a chance for the defendant to understand the charges they face, stand up in court, and deny the charges against them.

What Are the Plea Options at an Arraignment?

When you go to your arraignment, the judge will ask you something along the lines of, “How do you plead?” People may understand the classic “guilty” or “not guilty” pleas, but we will explain all of your options, and why you may choose each option.

  • “Guilty” – This is an admission of guilt, and locks-in your case. Entering a guilty plea at an arraignment is usually a bad idea, because it ends your case then and there without allowing you a chance to fight your case at trial, and you proceed straight to sentencing. If you have already worked with an attorney to accept a plea agreement, you may plead guilty at this stage – but otherwise, it is likely to hurt you.
  • “Not guilty” – A pleading is not given under oath, and you are always allowed to plead not guilty. This gives you the opportunity to continue to fight your case, and take it to trial.
  • “No contest” – Pleading no contest says that you are not going to fight the case, but that you’re not going to admit guilt, either. This ends your case like a guilty plea, and allows it to move to sentencing, but has no legally binding admission on record. Judges may not always accept these pleas, but they may be effective choices if you are also facing civil lawsuits for the same issues and want to avoid admitting anything.
  • Alford pleas – Named after the Supreme Court case, North Carolina v. Alford (1970), this is a combination plea. In this, you plead guilty (i.e. that the government could win at trial), but you maintain your claim of innocence. It is usually a complicated tool used during plea bargaining, and your attorney can explain it more thoroughly if it becomes an option in your case. Judges may refuse these types of pleas.
  • “Not guilty by reason of insanity” – Pleading insanity is very complicated, and is not effective in many cases. If you truly have a mental health issue that caused you to commit the crime, make sure to talk to an attorney about the effects of pleading insanity.

What Happens at an Arraignment in Utah?

Pleading guilty or no contest at an arraignment usually ends your case, and is not a good idea unless you are doing so as part of a plea agreement. Always talk to an attorney about what plea to enter, or enter a “not guilty” plea.

When Does an Arraignment Occur in Utah?

Traditionally, after arrest, you are placed before a judge and informed of the crimes against you, you enter your plea, and the arraignment ends. This makes arraignments one of the first events in your criminal case. In Utah, this is only true for misdemeanor cases.

“Misdemeanors” and “felonies” are the two major levels of crime in Utah. Misdemeanors are all crimes punished with a potential of up to one year in jail, and felonies are all crimes punished with a potential of over a year in prison. These levels of crime are further divided into “degrees” for felonies (“first” through “third” degrees, plus “capital” offenses) and “classes” for misdemeanors (class A, B, and C).

Misdemeanors and felonies are tried in different courthouses, and felonies get additional steps in their criminal process. An arraignment is always the last step before trial in both systems. For felonies, you may be informed of the charges earlier (though that isn’t “the arraignment”), then go through a “preliminary hearing” and other legal events and court dates. If charges were dropped or dismissed before arraignment, only the remaining charges will be listed. The last step before trial will be the arraignment process – so it fits after the preliminary hearing and before trial. For misdemeanor cases, you skip the preliminary hearing process and proceed straight to arraignment, so it will likely be your first court date.

Salt Lake City Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you or a loved one was charged with a crime or was scheduled for an arraignment on their charges, talk to an attorney. It is always a good idea to discuss your charges with an attorney before entering a plea in your case – and important to understand why a guilty plea at an arraignment may be a bad idea. For a free consultation on your case, contact Darwin Overson of Overson Law today at (801) 758-2287.