facing criminal charges? here’s what happens at an arraignment

July 29, 2021

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So you’re facing criminal charges.

What happens at an arraignment? And then what happens after an arraignment hearing? It is understandable that you might feel a mixture of emotions. You may feel confused, scared, anxious, upset, angry, stressed out, or any number of other emotions. Understanding what to expect at the very first court appearance can go a long way in helping you deal with all of the feelings that may surface during this situation.

What happens at an arraignment hearing?

Your first court date is called an initial appearance or arraignment. If you’ve been arrested and taken to jail, you may appear before a judge for a bond setting hearing prior to the initial appearance or arraignment. At the initial appearance, the judge informs the defendant of their rights during the criminal process. The judge may use words that are foreign to someone who has never been through the process before.

What rights is each defendant entitled to and exactly what does each right mean?

What is the right to counsel? In Nebraska, if a defendant is facing possible incarceration time, the defendant is entitled to have an attorney represent them. If the defendant cannot afford to hire an attorney, the judge will appoint an attorney to represent the defendant at no cost.

What is the right to a fair trial? A defendant has the right to a trial where the state has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the criminal charges.

What is the right to cross-examine witnesses against the defendant? A defendant has a right to question any witnesses presented by the state at a trial.

What is the right to present evidence? A defendant has a right to present their own evidence to defend against the charges. Evidence that a defendant could present includes witnesses, documents, pictures, videos, or recordings.

What is the right to a preliminary hearing? If a defendant is facing felony charges, the defendant has a right to a preliminary hearing in county court. At the preliminary hearing, the state must prove that there is probable cause to bound the felony charges over to the district court. The district court is where the remainder of the proceedings for felonies are held. In basic terms, probable cause means that the state must prove that a crime has been committed and that the defendant is connected to that crime in some way. At the preliminary hearing, the defendant has the right to cross-examine witnesses and to present evidence.

Entering of a plea.

After a defendant is informed of their rights in a criminal case, the judge will then advise the defendant of exactly what charges the defendant is facing. The defendant will learn what the potential sentences for the charges are, including fines or any possibility of incarceration.

The judge may also ask the defendant to enter a plea to the charges. If the defendant does not have an attorney at the hearing, the judge may continue the hearing for the defendant to enter a plea after consulting with an attorney. The judge will advise defendants of three possible pleas: guilty, not guilty, or no contest. A “guilty” plea is admitting that the defendant committed the crimes as charged. A “not guilty” plea is exactly as it sounds – the defendant is not admitting to the charges. A “no contest” plea means a defendant will not contest the facts of the case as the state presents them. If a defendant enters a “no contest” plea and the judge believes the state’s facts prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge will find the defendant guilty of those charges.

Addressing the issue of bond.

After entry of a plea, the judge may address the issue of bond, even if bond has been addressed previously. A defendant has a right to request a bond review. A judge could require that a specific monetary amount be posted in order for an incarcerated defendant to gain release. In Nebraska, judges will usually require a defendant to post 10% of the bond to be released from jail. A judge may release a defendant without posting bond but require that the defendant be monitored by pretrial release while the case is pending. A judge may also determine that it is appropriate for a defendant to be released on their own recognizance (a PR or OR bond). A PR bond means the judge trusts the defendant to show up at court without having to post a monetary amount to get released from jail.

The judge may also order a defendant to follow certain conditions of bond, such as refraining from the use of alcohol or controlled substances, avoiding contact with alleged victims, or refraining from leaving the county or state.

An experienced attorney will help.

Criminal court can be a scary, intimidating, and confusing place for defendants, especially for those defendants who don’t know what happens at an arraignment and are finding themselves in a new, unfamiliar situation. The best way to make it through the process is by having an experienced attorney at your side to help you.


This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts.


If you are seeking guidance or representation in criminal defense, contact Hightower Reff Law today.

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