Under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, you have the right to have an attorney alongside you to advise and represent you at any time after the police arrest you. Besides trial, your right to an attorney includes pretrial hearings like the arraignment.
But just because you can have a defense attorney present at your arrangement, does that mean you should? What difference can having your lawyer with you in court make at that stage?
The answer is simple. Having your attorney present at every stage of the criminal justice system is a benefit to you. They make sure your rights are protected from violations by police and prosecutors. And they help you keep your options as open as possible so you can resolve the matter in the least disruptive way available.
What happens at the arraignment
The arraignment is the pretrial court appearance at which you enter your plea. In Wisconsin, you can plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. A no-contest plea is not admitting guilt but works similarly to a guilty plea in that you are saying you will not contest the evidence against you. When the defendant is charged with a felony, the court will hold a preliminary hearing before the arraignment, during which the prosecutor must show that probable cause exists that the defendant committed the crime. This is not the same as a trial, and probable cause does not equal guilt.
Obviously, what you do at your arraignment matters. If you plead guilty or no contest, you will be sentenced for the crimes you were charged with. Before you make your plea, you should know what the consequences of each option will be. You should also have a good idea of how strong the prosecution’s case is and whether you can avoid a criminal record and jail time. Your defense attorney can give you this information and help you decide how to proceed.