What should you expect when you’re ordered to appear for an “arraignment?”
By the time many Iowa defendants get around to calling an attorney, their next court date is an “arraignment.”
Arraignment” isn’t a word many of us heard growing up, so it’s not surprising that many first-time defendants stress about an unfamiliar-sounding court date.
It’s likely that when your attorney entered their appearance, she or he waived your preliminary hearing and entered a plea of not guilty on your behalf. If you or your attorney hasn’t entered a plea yet, you will have to do so at your arraignment.
There is no arraignment for simple misdemeanors in Iowa.
You and your attorney can handle this court date in person or in writing.
Most Iowa counties allow arraignments to be done in writing.
Written arraignments take less time. They save you money on attorney fees and expenses like mileage and parking meters. They also mean you don’t have to take the day off work to go to court. For most people, it makes sense to do things this way.
To do a “written arraignment,” your lawyer will give you a document to read and sign and a copy of the Trial Information, which is the formal document that charges you. You will read these documents and make sure that you understand them before signing.
If there’s any part of the documents that you don’t understand, you need to talk to your attorney right away. If you aren’t sure that you understand the charges against you or the documents you’re reading and signing, it’s best to do the arraignment in person, in court.
There are times when it makes more sense to do an arraignment in person than in writing.
For example, if you have trouble understanding English, have certain mental health difficulties, or aren’t sure that you understand the written arraignment and Trial Information, you should do your arraignment in writing.
Contents of an Arraignment
In your written or at your in-person arraignment, you will need to plead “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “former conviction or acquittal.”
You will need to decide whether to waive speedy trial.
The judge wants to know that you understand what you are being accused of and what the consequences of those accusations could be.
Whether or Not to Waive Speedy Trial
At your arraignment, you will decide whether or not to waive speedy trial.
If you are charged with an indictable offense (anything other than a simple misdemeanor), the State has to bring you to trial within 90 days of filing the Trial Information unless you waive your right to speedy trial (or good cause is shown.)
Many defendants waive their right to speedy trial. This makes it easier to ask the court to continue court dates, etc.
There are times when you may want to demand your right to speedy trial.
Even if you waive your right to speedy trial within 90 days, your case must still be tried within a year after your arraignment, unless the court finds good cause to grant an extension.
If you have questions about whether it is better for you to demand your right to speedy trial or waive it, ask your attorney how your choice could affect your case.
What will happen if I’m charged?
An arraignment is just one step in the Iowa criminal process.
Arraignement happens after law enforcement has started their investigation. By the time you get to this court date, you have already gone through arrest, been read your rights, and had an opportunity to call a lawyer or law firm. Arraignment happens after your initial appearance and after your preliminary hearing. By the time arraignment happens, the Court has already determined that probable cause exists to support the charge against you.
Your attorney will explain the misdemeanor or felony charges that the government has written into the charging document and how conviction of those offenses could affect your criminal record. Your criminal lawyer will tell you more about the fines, terms of incarceration, and collateral consequences that might apply and make sure you understand what lesser included offenses you might also be facing. Your law firm will give you legal advice on the pros and cons of taking your case to trial. The decision of whether or not to go to trial is ultimately yours.
If you are ultimately convicted, you might have reason and opportunity to appeal your conviction or sentence to the court of appeals or even to the Iowa Supreme Court. The Supreme Court might even say that there was a constitutional problem with the statute you were charged under. Ask your criminal defense attorney for more information.
What should I know about lawyers generally?
Attorneys are people who completed their bachelor’s or 4-year degrees and then went on to attend a law school, such as Drake University Law School in Des Moines. After completing law school, Iowa lawyers take the bar exam and are evaluated for character and fitness. Iowa lawyers are admitted to the Iowa state bar. The bar association regulates the legal profession.
Some lawyers and law firms do general practice, which means they accept all kind of representation. Some lawyers specialize in particular areas of law. A lawyer might do only civil practice or only criminal defense. Some lawyers get even more particular than that, practicing only (or primarily) in a narrow area, such as domestic violence, sex crime, sexual abuse, operating while intoxicated, child endangerment, child abuse, indecent exposure, theft, family law, child custody, personal injury law, possession of controlled substances, sex crimes, marijuana, DUI defense, arson, criminal mischief, vehicular homicide, drug offenses, traffic violations, violent crime or drunk driving.
Many Iowa lawyers practice only in Iowa courts. All Iowa crimes are defined in the Iowa Code. The Iowa rules of criminal procedure control what happens in Iowa criminal justice cases.
Federal court is different from State court. If you are facing federal charges for a federal criminal offense, make sure to let your Iowa lawyer know that so that they can give you referrals to other attorneys, if necessary. Federal courts in Iowa are not the same things as state law courts in Iowa. Federal prosecutors and federal judges use different procedural rules. Federal crimes are subject to federal sentencing.
What offenses exist in Iowa criminal law?
Criminal law offenses are divided into misdemeanors and felonies. Class A felonies exist, but most people facing felony charges are facing a class B felony, a class C felony, or a class D felony. If you have questions about Iowa arson laws, you should talk to a lawyer.
What can an Iowa lawyer do for me at an arraignment?
An attorney or law firm that works with Iowa criminal law can help you understand the benefits of demanding or waiving speedy trial at your arraignment
If there’s a warrant out for your arrest, your Iowa criminal defense attorney can help coordinate with law enforcement to coordinate a self-surrender that doesn’t result in potential embarrassment at work or while you’re home with your family.
Your Iowa stolen property crime lawyer will stay in touch with the county attorney’s office and let the prosecutor know whether you choose to exercise or waive your right to speedy trial. Further, counsel can provide some guidance on whether it’s advisable in your position to consider a plea agreement or to go to trial. They will talk to you about whether a judge or jury is likely to find a particular witness credible.
Your criminal lawyer will let you know what sort of jail time you might be facing if convicted, how this will impact your criminal history, and how likely it is that you could get your charges dismissed.
An arraignment hearing is one of several routine hearings in a criminal case.
The arraignment happens after the preliminary hearing. Depending on how busy the district court and the prosecuting attorney are, the arraignment could be within a couple weeks of the preliminary hearing or it could take a month or more.
An arraignment won’t happen in all actions, just criminal proceedings at district court level. If you’re appealing to an appellate court, facing a probation revocation or probation violation proceeding, or seeking post-conviction relief, those aren’t the sorts of things that you’ll be arraigned for.
If there’s an arrest warrant out for you because you’ve missed a preceding court date or because a victim witness has alleged that you’ve violated a court order, you won’t be arraigned until that warrant has been resolved by arrest. Your lawyer cannot resolve your warrant for you. The judge will require you to show up in court, where she might direct a law enforcement officer to take you into custody, depending on circumstances. Alternatively, any police entity from the county sheriff’s office can arrest you at any time. If you try to avoid being taken in on a warrant, the judge might take that into consideration when setting bail.
This is a very formulaic and routine hearing. Therefore, many judges will permit you to submit a written arraignment in lieu of appearing in court. This document will have to be notarized before filing. Submitting this document will not get rid of a warrant.
After the hearing or after the court reviews the document you’ve filed, they’ll set the matter for pretrial conference and for jury trial. For most offenses, you have a right to a jury trial and can waive that right, opting instead for a bench trial. At your trial, it is likely that witnesses, including the alleged victim, interviewing officers from the sheriff’s office, and others will appear to testify against you. You have a right to compulsory process, which means that the court will make witnesses show up on your behalf.
If you are convicted, the last hearing that is very common is a sentencing hearing. At a sentencing, the court will impose punishment. You might be directed to pay restitution. Your Iowa arraignment lawyer will tell you what to expect.