Interviewer: What happens during the initial arraignment?
The Prosecutor Files a Criminal Information
Phil Wormdahl: That would be the first appearance in court that you would make after a misdemeanor, a class B or a class C, which could be a DUI-type arrest. An arraignment can happen anywhere between a few days to a several weeks after your arrest. Typically before you’re arraigned, a charging document would need to be filed by the prosecutor’s office. In Utah they call it a criminal information.
You Will Enter a Plea at the Arraignment
Information in this context means something different than it does in normal everyday language. It’s just simply the name of a charging document. The charging document will be this piece of paper that says this is what you’re accused to have done and this is why we think that you did it. You go to the arraignment, and the arraignment is as simple as pleading not guilty, guilty, or no contest, to the offense. So it’s typically a pretty short hearing in terms of your time in front of the judge. In most courts, arraignment calendars may have anywhere from a few to fifty people there, all being arraigned on different types of offenses.
A Pre-Trial Conference Will Be Scheduled after the Arraignment If You Enter a No Guilty Plea; It Is NOT Advisable to Enter a Guilty Plea
If you plead not guilty, your case is set for the next type of the hearing which is called a ‘pre-trial conference’. If you pleaded guilty or no contest, then your case is essentially over and you’ve lost your chance to litigate your case and try to get a better outcome then you would have had otherwise. So I would almost universally never tell someone to plead guilty at an arraignment.
If You Retain an Attorney for the DUI, You Will Not Need to Attend the Arraignment
If you’re charged with a DUI or similar misdemeanor, if you do hire a lawyer you don’t have to go to your arraignment. Your lawyer submits some paperwork and one piece of this paperwork is a notice of appearance of counsel. It’s a document that tells the court that specifically I’m the lawyer on behalf of this person. Also in that same document, you can enter not guilty pleas for your client to all the charges. If you enter those not guilty pleas with piece of paper through a pleading, then the court generally will strike the arraignment or cancel it, and then just reset the case for a pre-trial conference.
Retaining an Attorney Early in the Case May Help You Avoid Pre-Trial Restrictions
Retaining an attorney early saves you from having to go to court that morning and sit there all day, waiting for your name to be called just to get up for twenty seconds and say, “not guilty”. And the other thing that it does is sometimes it can protect you from having pre-trial restrictions placed on you. For some people who are charged with the crime because of the particular facts of their offense or because of a prior criminal history, sometimes the prosecutor would ask the court to impose pre-trial restriction.
Pre-Trial Restrictions Could Include Daily Probation Reporting or Wearing a SCRAM Device to Monitor Alcohol Intake
So the prosecutor now asks the court to impose that you either start reporting to the day-reporting center—to Salt Lake County probation, and they’re calling you every day, checking you with a probation officer, drug-testing, alcohol testing, urine tests—as your case is pending. So before you’ve ever been convicted of any crime, they may be trying to restrict your freedom.
Another restriction that’s become common is that they could potentially require that you go install what’s called a SCRAM device or what’s also known as a sober device on your person. These are wireless devices that are either hooked on to your body and you have to breathe into at a particular interval several times a day to prove that you’re not using alcohol and abiding by other restrictions. There are also costs associated with these devices. And again a way to not go into an arraignment is to have a lawyer enter a not guilty plea for you, and have the arraignment stricken.