An arraignment is usually a defendant's first court appearance in front of a judge and the prosecutor. The main purpose of the arraignment is to inform the defendant of the criminal charges against him or her. At this first court appearance, the defendant (or his or her attorney) enters a plea of "Guilty" or "Not Guilty." Typically, the defendant pleads "Not Guilty" to begin defending the case. At the arraignment the defendant's attorney will be given the criminal complaint with the police report.
After the plea is entered, the court schedules a new court date. If the criminal charges are misdemeanors, a pretrial conference date is set usually about 30 days after the arraignment. If the criminal charges are felonies, under California law, a preliminary hearing is scheduled within 10 court days of the arraignment, unless the defendant waives time (right to a speedy preliminary hearing) and the preliminary hearing is set beyond the 10 court days.
Bail is addressed at the arraignment. If the bail is set too high, an attorney may argue for the bail to be reduced or may request the defendant be released on his own recognizance (commonly known as "O.R.") without posting bail, if the defendant is in custody on the arraignment date.
Defendants are required to appear at their arraignment in felony cases unless a written waiver according to Penal Code section 997(b) is accepted by the court. It is a rare situation where the court accepts written waivers in felony cases. In misdemeanor cases, a defendant may have his or her attorney appear in his or her place, under Penal Code section 977(a). Misdemeanor cases involving domestic violence and protective order violations are excepted from "977 authority," and usually require a defendant's personal court appearance.
If you need assistance with an arraignment or a criminal case, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn about your rights, defenses, and legal options.