Before discussing the arraignment process in Ohio, it is important to establish what an arraignment is not. An arraignment is not a trial. No witnesses are called, no evidence is heard, the arresting officer and/or complaining witness are not required to attend, guilt or innocence is not decided, and the accused generally does not speak (the attorney enters a plea on behalf of the defendant).
Now that we have established what an arraignment is not, let’s define what an arraignment is. An arraignment is a court proceeding where a defendant is formally notified of the charges against him and is asked to enter a formal plea. This proceeding is the first appearance by the defendant in court and is sometimes done in conjunction with an initial appearance depending upon the circumstances.
At an arraignment, a judge or magistrate will formally read the charges in the charging document (i.e., indictment, information or complaint) and the defendant will enter a plea. While this is often done in person, video arraignments exist which, makes use of videoconferencing and allows the arraignment process to proceed without the need to transport the defendant to the courtroom.
After being arrested, the arrestee must be brought to the court without “unnecessary delay.” While this is a somewhat vague idea, it is generally understood to be within 48 hours (or 72 hours if arrested on a Friday and arraignment cannot be held until Monday). If the prosecution fails to do this, the prosecutor must show that extraordinary circumstances justified the delay. If the arrest was not based on a warrant, any court with jurisdiction over the alleged offense will hear the case (i.e., mayor’s or municipal court for misdemeanors; common pleas court for felonies). If the arrest was based on a warrant, however, the arrestee must be brought before the court that issued the warrant.
At the arraignment or initial appearance, the court must notify the defendant of certain items, including:
- The nature of the charges;
- The right to an attorney, even if the defendant cannot afford one, and the right to a continuance to hire one;
- The right to remain silent;
- The right to a preliminary hearing if the arrest was for a felony and there is not an indictment;
- The right to bail; and
- The right to a jury trial, including the requirement that a jury demand be filed for certain offenses.
While an initial appearance for a misdemeanor may include an arraignment, a defendant in a felony case cannot enter a plea during an initial appearance. The full arraignment must occur later. Also, for both misdemeanors and felonies, an arraignment cannot be held until the defendant has received a copy of the charging document and has had a reasonable opportunity to object to the charges.
At the arraignment, the defendant will be asked to enter a plea to the charges. It is important to understand the differences between the available pleas. The pleas are:
- Not Guilty – this plea asserts that the facts alleged by the prosecutor and the charges against the defendant are untrue, and the defendant did not commit the alleged crime.
- Guilty – this plea asserts that the facts alleged by the prosecutor are true and is an admission to the charges against the defendant.
- No Contest – this plea asserts that the defendant did not commit the crime, but he or she cannot prevail against the charges.
It is usually advisable for defendants to enter a not guilty plea. This forces the prosecution to gather the evidence against the defendant and allows defense counsel an opportunity to review the prosecutor’s evidence through discovery. Through discovery, the defense attorney can investigate the case and determine the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecutor’s case. If the defendant simply enters a guilty plea at arraignment, the prosecutor is not required to prove their case and defense counsel is not given the opportunity to evaluate the state’s case.
While a guilty plea and a no contest plea appear to be the same thing, there are critical differences. For purposes of sentencing, a guilty plea and a no contest plea are effectively the same thing. However, a no contest plea differs from a guilty plea because it cannot be used against the defendant in other proceedings. For example, a no contest plea by a defendant to an assault charge cannot be used against the defendant if a civil suit is brought against the defendant for the assault.
Columbus and Delaware, Ohio Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Columbus or Delaware, Ohio, contact Johnson Legal, LLC and speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Attorney David Johnson of Johnson Legal, LLC will discuss your case and assist you in fighting the charges. Call (614) 987-0192 or send an email to schedule a consultation regarding your criminal offense case.