The judicial system runs on strict procedures; and so, understanding what happens and when it takes place reduces the confusion that most people feel when appearing before the courts for the first time. Arraignment is one of the processes that an individual has to go through after getting charged. An arraignment refers to the reading of the charges before a Judge. Arraignment ordinarily takes place in the District Court or Supreme Court. A point of importance to take into account is that arraignment takes place on a scheduled day of the week, so you may have to wait until your time comes. Part of the procedure involves informing you of the date, time and location of your arraignment.
Legal representation is highly advisable when facing criminal charges even if you intend to plead guilty. A legal practitioner will explain the various protocols and regulations of the court to ease the process. However, it is possible for an accused person to opt for self-representation in court. In such an instance, the Judge must make certain that you know of your rights and how to exercise them. However, a Judge cannot tell provide you with legal advice as to whether to should plead guilty or not guilty. In the District court of NSW, you cannot have a friend representing you.
Entering a Plea
During an arraignment, the accused is required to enter a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty” which is referred to as pleading the charge. In situations where there is more than one charge, each one is read separately as the accused enters a separate plea for every single one. If more than one person is facing the same charge, the arraignment can be on different occasions. Alternatively, multiple accused individuals can be arraigned together as well as the nature of the charges and the convenience of the situation dictate which option the court may go with. The reading of the counts can be done by an Associate of the Judge or by the Judge. Entering a plea is something that the accused has to do personally.
An individual must understand the implications of either plea. If it is a guilty plea, then the accused has to wait for the sentencing, and that can be at the same time as the arrangement or a later date. Entering a plea of not guilty means that the case proceeds to trial. In some instances, the accused may not be in a position to enter a plea, so the court may plead not guilty, which will have the same effect as if the accused had done it themselves. Note that a trial means arguing a case in front of a judge and jury, meaning that you must be well prepared. One reason the expertise of a lawyer is necessary is that a lot of documentation is required when arguing a case. There are motions to file, evidence to present, and a jury to empanel. A legal practitioner with the experience can do all this efficiently. If you are presenting a defence, then this needs to be prepared properly.
The District court of NSW has the power to adjourn proceedings. One instance is when the accused asks for more time to consult a legal counsel before entering a plea. There may also be an adjournment if the prosecution seeks to amend the indictment. The court will analyse the necessity for re-arraignment after the amendments.
The accused can enter a plea of not guilty to a charge in the indictment but plead guilty to another offense, not in the indictment but part of the charge. A good example is a person accused of armed robbery pleading not guilty to the charge but guilty to robbery. The Judge can accept or refuse the plea. Another scenario is when the accused pleads not guilty to the primary charge set out in an indictment but guilty to an alternative count. If the court does not accept the plea to the alternative count, then it remains, but the accused has to face a jury to answer for the primary charge. A point to note is that the accused should stand when called out and remain so until after entering pleas to all charges.
When Does it Take Place?
Arraignment in the District court of NSW takes place on different occasions. One is the first mention that has to be before a judge in the District Court. Then there is an arraignment on the day of trial. Sometimes, before a trial starts, there may be arguments in relation to the admissibility of evidence. At this juncture in the criminal justice process, some questions of the law come up. For example, your lawyer may ask about the admissibility of evidence or the power of that particular court to hear the case. Besides the accused persons, other people present at an arraignment are the Judge, Judge’s associate, potential jurors, and the legal representatives. During the arraignment, you are not required to submit any evidence, just pleading the charges.
There are a few instances where an Arraignment may fail to take place, and these are:
- There is a question on the fitness of the accused to stand trial;
- There is a submission of the stay of indictment;
- An application to demure or crush the indictment has been made; and
- The court gives time before entering a plea to the charge.
Category of Offences
A majority of criminal cases are finalised in the Local Court, but the district court hears all indictable offenses, which refer to cases that are more severe. Understanding the type of criminal case that the District Court of NSW handles is essential for anyone who finds themselves in legal situations. A case may start in the Local Court but end up being finalised in the District Court if it is an indictable offence. Your background, the nature of specific allegations, and the attitude of the prosecutor are some of the elements that may influence where your case is finalised if the offence is an indictable offence that can be finalised in the Local Court. The criminal offence classes are:
- Summary offences refer to the least severe crimes, and the local courts usually handle these
- After that comes Table 1 or Table 2 Offences which can either be heard in the Local or District Courts
- The most severe crimes fall under Indictable Offences, which are finalised in the District or Supreme Court.
Preparation for Arraignment
Firstly, you should have the full details of your appearance. Either you or your legal representative should attend the arraignment. For an accused who is on bail, attendance is a must even when your lawyer is present. In the event your arraignment date is impossible to meet, you can ask for it to be moved. You can also ask for the arraignment to go to another location.