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The Importance of an Arraignment

May 16, 2012

2. Law, 5. Pre-Trial

I always chuckle when the media reports in ever-so-serious tones that so-and-so plead “Not Guilty” at his Arraignment.  Everyone pleads “Not Guilty” at their Arraignment.  Pleading guilty is done after filling out a long form and being read the long list of rights the defendant is giving up.  We don’t slow down arraigning dozens of people so one guy can be special.

In Pennsylvania, the Arraignment is very often waived.  If not waived, the Judge reads the charges.  Before the Arraignment, a person is not formally charged with any crimes; after an Arraignment, he is.  It marks a moment in time.

But then the clocks start to tick.

There’s 7 days to file a Request for a Bill of Particulars.  The response lays out precisely what the Commonwealth alleges constituted criminal behavior and which sections of the penal law was violated thereby.  The BoP is somewhat of a useless document, but it can become an event in rare instances.

More importantly, there’s 14 days to file a Motion to Produce Discovery.  One of the reasons I love criminal-defense law is that the prosecution has to produce all of its evidence – even the evidence that may exonerate my client.  Yes, of course, prosecutors play games.  Yes, of course, they give the evidence in waves, releasing it “as soon as it was discovered.”  But you get everything.  What we have to disclose is substantially less – notice of affirmative defenses (self-defense, insanity, etc.), witness lists, expert reports, and the like.

And the most important event comes at Arraignment + 30 days.  The Omnibus Pretrial Motion is required to be filed.  After we’ve sifted through the Commonwealth’s evidence and traced as best we can the origins, we then ask the court to not allow certain items or topics to be used at trial.  Cases are won and lost at the hearings that ensue.  This is the time that bad Warrants or searches meet their maker.

My heart always sinks when new clients wait until the day before Arraignment to hire me.  Sure, the forms are on my hard disk, but you want to hit the ground running when the evidence is produced.  By that late time, we’ve missed the opportunity to dive into the case during the Preliminary Hearing.

The best time to hire an attorney is as early as possible.  If you know you’re going to be charged – hire an attorney.  If you just got charged and had bail set – hire an attorney.  Don’t wait.  There’s too much good work that can be done to prepare an aggressive defense that is lost if you wait.

In the meantime, don’t talk to the cops and don’t waive any proceedings, ok?

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About Clyde

Clyde is the lead attorney in the firm. Licensed to practice in 1993, he's also taught Constitutional and Criminal Law for several years at a private university, primarily at the Master's level.

View all posts by Clyde

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