What Happens at an Arraignment in Utah?

Being arrested can be a frightening and confusing situation, especially if you have no prior experience with the criminal justice system. You may not know what to expect or what steps you need to take to protect yourself and to give yourself the best chance at getting your charges downgraded or dismissed. When you hear words like “arraignment” being tossed around, you might not even know what they mean. Below, our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys at Overson & Bugden explain what an arraignment is, what happens before, during, and after the arraignment, and how our lawyers can help bring your case to the best possible resolution.

Events Leading up to a Utah Criminal Arraignment

The case will begin when the crime is allegedly committed. For some minor crimes or infractions, the police will simply write you a citation with your arraignment date on it and allow you to go on your way. If this is the case for you, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer like those at Overson & Bugden right away, so we can reach out to the prosecutor and try to work out a deal where the matter is resolved on the date of your arraignment.

Typically, when the police believe you to have committed a crime, you will be arrested. An arrest can occur on the spot if the officer has probable cause to believe that you committed a crime, such as in situation where they personal witness a robbery or some other crime. Usually, there will be an investigation and the officers will apply for an arrest warrant when they believe they have gathered enough evidence to prove you did it. If the judge grants the warrant, the police will come to your home or place of work and place you under arrest. You will then be transported to the station for booking, and held in the station’s holding cell or at the local jail until your bail hearing and initial appearance, which includes your arraignment in some cases. This usually occurs within 72 hours at most.

The Criminal Arraignment in Utah

A criminal arraignment is a short and relatively simple proceeding where you officially enter an initial plea of guilty or not guilty with the court. When this arraignment occurs will depend on whether you have been charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, the arraignment will occur not long after your arrest at your initial court appearance, where the judge will also read the charges against you and advise you of your rights during a criminal case. These include your right to a lawyer if you have not already retained one, your right to a trial in generally, as well as the right to a jury trial specifically, which exists in Utah for all charges except infractions.

This initial appearance will also occur in felony cases, but without the arraignment part of it. There will, however, be a bail hearing during or shortly after the initial appearance in both misdemeanor and felony cases. You will certainly want an experienced bail hearing attorney like those at Overson & Bugden arguing on your behalf when the judge decides if you can be released or if you must be held in jail until the underlying case is resolved. In felony cases, the formal arraignment where you enter a plea occurs on a later date, after bail has been settled and after an optional preliminary hearing.

Potential Outcomes of a Criminal Arraignment in Utah

As noted above, you are asked to enter a plea at your arraignment. If you choose to enter a guilty plea, the matter will be resolved and will proceed to a sentencing hearing where the judge will decide what penalties you will face. It is almost never advisable to enter a guilty plea at the arraignment, as, even if you have no desire to take the case to trial, your lawyer will want more time to request discovery, assess the strength of the case, and attempt to negotiate a deal with the prosecutor to get your charges downgraded or dismissed. Instead, an experienced Utah attorney for a criminal arraignment like those at Overson & Bugden will likely advise you to plead not guilty, and the plea can be easily changed to guilty later if an acceptable deal is reached.

There is technically also a third type of plea you could enter at the arraignment. This is known as a “nolo contendre” or “no contest” plea. This is slightly different than a guilty plea, in that you do not actually admit to committing the crime but rather simply choose not to challenge the charges. For the purposes of sentencing and having a criminal record, however, it will make no difference whether you enter a not guilty plea or a no contest plea.

The one major advantage of pleading no contest instead of guilty is that if you are sued in a civil case regarding the same incident, your no contest plea in the criminal matter cannot be used as evidence of your guilt in the civil matter like a guilty plea could. For example, in a case involving vehicular homicide, if you enter a no contest plea in your criminal case, it cannot be used as proof of your guilt in a wrongful death suit filed in civil court. However, unlike with guilty or not guilty pleas, a no contest plea must be approved by the court. If this is how you wish to plead, our skilled criminal defense lawyers can work to get the prosecutor and the judge on board.

If You Are Concerned About Your Criminal Arraignment, Call Our Skilled Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys Today

At Overson & Bugden, our Logan criminal defense lawyers have years of experience successfully defending clients charged with all sorts of crimes at their arraignment and beyond. We will work to get you released from jail and likely advise you to enter an initial plea of not guilty while we get a better feel for your options. In some cases, a no contest plea may be advisable. If the case goes on, we will be your fearless advocate fighting to get the charges downgraded or dismissed. Call us today at (801) 758-2287 for a free consultation.