Arraignment is your first appearance before a judge. At this time you are formally presented with the charges against you (a formal paper filing). You must personally appear at your arraignment.* If you fail to
appear the judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest. There are some rights you should be aware of before showing up in court. You have the right to have an attorney present. You may bring an attorney with you or you may ask the court to appoint one for you if you can’t afford one. You have the right to go to trial should you choose to. At trial you may present evidence and confront any of the witnesses who will testify against you, including your arresting officers. While the 5th Amendment means you are not required to testify at trial, as an individual arrested in a protest, a trial may provide you a forum for voicing your side of the story. If you plan to plead not guilty, you should decide whether you will hire a private attorney or acquire a National Lawyers Guild-NYC (212-679-6018, www.nlgnyc.org), Legal Aid (a public defender) or courtappointed attorney as soon as possible; some important strategic decisions must be made at your arraignment and you want to be prepared.
If you plan to plead guilty, you will usually be offered a lesser sentence in order to take a guilty plea through the process known as “plea bargaining.” You may be offered an ACD if you have no or limited criminal history. If you are offered an ACD then there is no reason to plead guilty.
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