Can Charges Be Dropped At An Arraignment Hearing?

Written by:Julian Stroleny PortraitJulian Stroleny
Photo of a Man in Jail

Criminal court proceedings can often be confusing as there are various processes and formalities that need to be completed. One of the key aspects is the arraignment hearing, which is typically the first formal court proceeding or appearance of the case. Can charges be dropped at an arraignment hearing? To answer that question, there are several factors that need to be considered. Continue reading to learn more. 

What is an Arraignment Hearing? 

The arraignment hearing is a preliminary hearing in the criminal court process. After the suspect is arrested, an arraignment hearing is conducted to formally charge the suspect with a crime, allow the state more time to investigate the matter, or announce the dismissal of charges. In this hearing, the suspect is advised of the charges, in the event the state files charges. The arraignment hearing typically takes place within 20-28 days after an arrest, but this can vary depending on the local practices.

If you are arrested and held without bond, typically, the arraignment hearing is the first time you meet the judge handling your individual case. The arraignment hearing is held after the first appearance hearing. The first appearance hearing determines whether the person has to be detained, can be released on their own recognizance, or needs to post bail or bond to be released. 

Your criminal defense attorney gets an opportunity to argue on your behalf at the arraignment hearing. The arraignment hearing is also when the defendant enters an initial plea. While you enter a plea at your arraignment, it can be later be changed or withdrawn in the future; therefore, this is an extremely important aspect of a criminal court case. While defendants commonly enter a plea of not guilty at their arraignment, a defense lawyer representing their client may enter the following three types of pleas in a criminal court, based on individual circumstances: 

Guilty Plea 

When the defendant pleads guilty, they admit to the charges. Entering this type of plea is not advised unless and until there are some legal benefits, such as a reduced sentence in exchange for pleading guilty. This is known as a plea deal. 

To plead guilty, the defendant has to prove to the judge that they are entering the plea knowingly and intelligently and that they are giving up certain rights, such as the right to a jury trial, counsel, or cross-examination of the accuser. Typically, the judge will remind the defense about the consequences of entering a guilty plea and what specific rights are going to be waived as a result of the plea. 

Not-Guilty Plea

A not-guilty plea is entered when the defense does not agree to the charges. This is the most common type of plea in criminal case proceedings. After this type of plea is entered, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor or state. Not pleading guilty provides the defense team valuable time to discover new information, gather evidence, and build a stronger case. 

No Contest

A no-contest plea is made when the defendant neither agrees nor disagrees with the charges. While a no-contest plea is similar to pleading guilty, there is a key difference. With a no-contest plea, the defendant enters into a technical admission that they will accept the sentence without admitting or denying the charges. The main benefit of pleading no contest is that the defendant does not admit to the guilt associated with the charge. This can help them avoid other related charges in a civil case. 

Experienced criminal defense attorneys can guide you on your legal options and help you decide which plea agreement is best for your case. 

Photo of a Man in Handcuffs

Can Charges be Dropped at Arraignment Hearing?

An arraignment hearing happens whether you are charged with a felony or misdemeanor. In the arraignment hearing, you get to learn about the specific charges brought against you and your protected rights as a defendant. 

While it is possible to get the charges dropped at an arraignment hearing, it should not be expected. If the accusations against you are less severe, you have a greater chance of getting the charges dropped. Whether the charges will be dropped or not depends on the specifics of your case.  

Typically, the judge does not have the authority to drop criminal charges at an arraignment.  However, dropping charges in an arraignment hearing can happen if the prosecutor drops the charges. The prosecutor can drop charges if there is insufficient evidence for the case or when the defendant accepts a plea deal or plea bargain to a lesser offense. 

Accepting a plea deal can make legal sense if you don’t have a strong case. Instead of getting charges dropped completely, the prosecutor may offer you a lesser sentence or fewer or no fines. For example, a murder charge can be reduced to a manslaughter charge, which is a lesser offense. If you have multiple charges, the plea deal might include an offer to dismiss another charge against you. In some cases, the prosecutor drops charges as pursuing the criminal case is not in the best interest of the public. 

Is It Necessary For The Accused To Attend The Arraignment Hearing? 

Typically, the accused must attend the arraignment hearing in person unless they have hired counsel, or the specific judge requires defendants to appear in person. There are also certain mitigating factors, such as medical issues, that may be taken into consideration. Your counsel can advise you of your rights and legal options, but your physical presence may be needed unless excused by the court. 

Is There a Way to Get The Charges Dropped Before a Court Appearance? 

If you want to get your charges dropped before the arraignment hearing, you should hire counsel to advocate on your behalf.  This act should only be carried out by your defense attorney. The lawyer can make their arguments to the state about why the charges should be dropped. The chances of getting charges dropped before an arraignment hearing are better for minor charges. Here are some tips on how to get charges dropped before your court appearance: 

Gather Evidence

The stronger your case, the more leverage you have in negotiating with the prosecutor or convincing a judge that the charges against you should be dropped. Gather any proof, including physical evidence, that helps prove your innocence or helps to undermine the opposing party’s case. If the prosecution feels they don’t have strong evidence to prove the charges, they can decide to drop the charges. 

Your charges can be dismissed if you get credible witness testimony to strengthen your case. Your lawyer can also present mitigating factors, such as cooperation with law enforcement or lack of criminal history, to help influence the decision to drop the charges. 

Negotiate With The Prosecution 

The most common scenario to get charges dropped before the arraignment hearing is to enter into negotiations with the prosecutor. Your attorney can point to a dearth of evidence, any gaps in the law, or infringement of your constitutional rights, to help convince the prosecutor to drop charges. You can also accept an early plea deal with the prosecutor in exchange for reduced charges.  

File Pre-Hearing Motions 

If you have solid legal grounds to dispute your charges, you can file a pre-hearing motion to drop the charges. This is also referred to as a move to dismiss You can file this motion if you believe there was a violation of your constitutional rights or there is a lack of reasonable cause to charge you. If the pre-hearing motion is approved, you can get the charges dropped. 

How Can A Criminal Defense Attorney Help?

A criminal defense lawyer can evaluate the facts of your case, including the validity and admissibility of evidence, to help guide you on your best legal options. They can also find any legal obstacles or hurdles in your case while also sharing legal technicalities or laws that could strengthen your case. In addition, they can advise you on how to best pursue a dismissal of the charges. 

To help you prepare for an arraignment hearing, the criminal defense lawyer can help you understand the potential charges against you so you know what to expect in court. They also share their assessment of how likely it is that you can get the charges dropped before or during the arraignment hearing. 
You can contact us at Stroleny Law: Criminal Defense Attorney, to develop a strong defense strategy against the charges. The criminal defense lawyers at Stroleny Law: Criminal Defense Attorney have handled scores of criminal cases. We understand that anyone can be at the wrong place at the wrong time or make a genuine mistake. Allow us to offer our experienced legal counsel on how to defend against criminal charges.

Read More: Can court date be rescheduled?

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