What Happens After Arraignment for a Felony Case?

what happens after arraignment for felony

An arraignment is the defendant’s first appearance in court during a criminal case. During this time, the charges are read, and—in Texas—the defendant is asked to make one of several pleas:

  1. They can submit a guilty plea, in which they recognize and accept the accuracy of the charges being applied to them.
  2. Alternatively, they may enter a plea of no contest (nolo contendere), where they accept the punishment for the charges without admitting guilt.
  3. They can submit a not guilty plea, in which they deny the charges.
  4. Or they can submit what is known as a “mute plea,” where they say nothing at all, and the judge records the plea as “not guilty.”

The plea entered at the arraignment sets the stage for the next steps in the criminal justice process. If a guilty or no contest plea is entered, the case will proceed to sentencing.

However, if a not-guilty plea is submitted, the case will move forward to trial, where the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Below, we will discuss the various possibilities of what happens after arraignment proceedings.

Bail and Pre-Trial Release

At the arraignment or a separate bail hearing, the judge will decide whether to allow the defendant to be released from custody while the case is pending. The judge may set a bail amount that must be posted to secure the defendant’s release or, in some cases, release the defendant on their own recognizance (without bail).

Factors the judge considers in this decision include the seriousness of the charges, the defendant’s criminal history, their ties to the community, and whether they pose a flight risk or danger to public safety.

If bail is set, the defendant or their family will need to post the required amount or hire a bail bondsman. The defendant will also have to comply with any conditions of release, such as checking in with a pre-trial officer, maintaining employment, or not possessing firearms.

Discovery and Investigation

The arraignment kicks off the discovery process, where the prosecution must share the evidence they have gathered with the defense. This typically includes police reports, witness statements, photographs, audio or video recordings, and forensic test results.

Your defense attorney will carefully examine this evidence to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution’s case. They will also conduct their own investigation, which may involve interviewing witnesses, consulting with experts, and gathering additional evidence to support your defense.

Pre-Trial Motions

In the weeks or months following the arraignment, your attorney may file various pre-trial motions to challenge aspects of the prosecution’s case or protect your constitutional rights. Examples include motions to suppress evidence obtained through an illegal search, exclude irrelevant or prejudicial evidence, or dismiss the charges for insufficient evidence.

There may be multiple court hearings where the judge hears arguments and rules on these motions. These rulings can significantly impact the course of the case and the strength of the evidence against you.

Plea Bargaining

In most felony cases, there will be plea negotiations between the prosecutor and defense attorney. The goal is to see if the parties can reach an agreement to resolve the case without a trial. This may involve the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser charge or the prosecutor agreeing to recommend a more lenient sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.

Plea bargaining can offer the certainty of a known outcome and the opportunity to obtain a more favorable resolution than might be achieved at trial. However, the decision to accept a plea agreement is a weighty one that should be made only after careful consultation with your attorney.

Trial Preparation and Trial

If no plea agreement is reached, the focus shifts to preparing for trial. Your lawyer will develop a comprehensive trial strategy, identify and prepare defense witnesses, and hone their arguments to present to the jury.

If the case goes to trial, the prosecutor will present their evidence and argue that it proves your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Your attorney will cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses, present any defense evidence, and argue that the prosecution has not met their high burden of proof. The jury will then deliberate until they reach a unanimous verdict or cannot agree.

Sentencing and Appeals

If you are convicted at trial or accept a plea deal, the next stage is sentencing. The judge will consider a variety of factors, including the severity of the offense, your criminal history, and any mitigating circumstances, in imposing a sentence.

If you are found guilty after a trial, you have the right to appeal the conviction to a higher court. An appeal is not a new trial but an opportunity to argue that legal errors were made that compromised your right to a fair trial.

Can I Change My Plea After the Arraignment?

While you are required to enter an initial plea at the arraignment, it is possible to change your plea later in the process. If you initially plead not guilty but later decide to accept a plea deal, you will need to request a change of plea hearing.

If you entered a guilty plea that you now wish to withdraw, you must file a motion demonstrating a valid reason for the change, such as coercion, lack of understanding, or new evidence of innocence.

The judge will consider factors like the timing of the request, the validity of your reasons, and any prejudice to the prosecution in deciding whether to grant the change. It’s best to carefully consider your plea options with your attorney from the beginning, as judges become more reluctant to allow plea changes as the case progresses.

Don’t Face Felony Charges Alone: Get the Strong Legal Advocacy You Need

If you have been charged with a felony offense, it is important to show up at your next court appearance with strong legal counsel on your side. While the court process can be lengthy and overwhelming, it is important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner.

The Whalen Law Office is a boutique firm. This means we have the resources of a large firm but the time to focus careful attention on your case. Contact us today for a consultation. We will review the facts of the case and help you develop a strong defense.

Author Bio

James P. Whalen

James P. Whalen is the managing attorney and founder of Whalen Law Office, a Texas criminal defense firm offering personalized legal representation for various federal criminal charges. With a commitment to providing comfort and guidance during challenging times, Mr. Whalen serves as both an attorney and counselor to his clients, helping them navigate their cases while striving to restore normalcy to their lives.

In an inherently unbalanced criminal justice system, Mr. Whalen takes on cases with unwavering dedication. With decades of legal experience, he offers representation across various criminal charges, including white-collar crimes, violent crimes, drug charges, and more. Mr. Whalen’s numerous accolades, including Super Lawyer recognition and board certification in Criminal Appellate Law and Criminal Law, reflect his unwavering commitment to ethical and high-quality legal representation.

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