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.