Updated May 22
An arraignment hearing is generally the first court appearance in a Colorado criminal case. The defendant is advised of the charges and potential sentencing, the defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty, and the judge sets the case for further proceedings.
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers explain:
- 1. What happens during an arraignment?
- 2. Do I have to appear in person for my arraignment?
- 3. How should I plead during the arraignment?
- 4. What do I do after an arraignment?
After an arrest by police officers, you may be given a summons to appear in court on a later date for an arraignment. The first appearance is an advisement hearing, followed by the arraignment. Under Rule 10 of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure, during the arraignment in open court, the defendant is informed of the offense for which they are charged, requiring them to enter a plea to the charge.
Depending on the court, type of criminal offense, and other factors, the arraignment may be held within a few days or a few weeks after the arrest. Most misdemeanors in Colorado are handled by the County Courts. An arraignment for a felony complaint may be handled by the District Courts.
Like many parts of the legal process, an arraignment may be confusing to first time defendants. This is why it is recommended to use the time between the arrest and arraignment to find an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney who will represent you in your criminal case.
During the arraignment, the judge will call your case. The judge will then read out the formal criminal charges against you, and ask how you will plead. This is the initial notice of formal charges, so even if you plead not guilty, you may have a chance to later change your plea. In most cases, you may choose to plead “not guilty.”
After pleading not guilty, the judge will put your case down for another court date, generally the pretrial conference. After you have been given a new date for your case, that may be the end of the arraignment. The arraignment process in most Colorado criminal cases may only last a couple of minutes.1
Whether or not you have to appear in person may depend on your specific case. If you were charged with a minor crime or misdemeanor, you may be able to have your attorney appear in court for your arraignment. However, if you were charged with a felony, you will probably need to appear in person before a judge in the appropriate Colorado District Court.
There may be a number of factors that make it difficult for you to appear in person for your arraignment, including work schedule, transportation difficulty, living in a different city or state, or if you have to stay at home to care for a family member. However, you should never skip the arraignment or any court hearing without getting approval ahead of time from the court. If you fail to show up, the court may issue a bench warrant for your arrest (this is different from an arrest warrant). This could result in jail time and expensive fines.
Talk to your Colorado attorney well before your arraignment date to find out if you have to appear in person. They will advise you of whether you have to be there or not. In many cases, your attorney can appear on your behalf, inform the court that you are pleading not guilty, and get the date for your next court appearance.2
The arraignment may not be the best time to think about pleading guilty. It is very early on in the criminal court process and you may not know what kind of case the Colorado district attorney has against you. After pleading not guilty, your attorney will be able to get access to all the evidence the prosecutor has and will rely on in his or her case against you. However, if you plead guilty, that may be the end of your criminal case and you will be sentenced by the judge. If you have any questions about how you should plead during the arraignment, talk to your attorney.3
After the arraignment, your case will proceed to the pretrial hearing. If you are facing a felony charge, the preliminary hearing may be scheduled. At this point, your attorney will be able to get access to the evidence and information that the prosecutor will rely on in prosecuting the case against you. This may include a police report, chemical test evidence, witness statements, surveillance footage, and other evidence or documentation. Once your attorney has a chance to evaluate the case, they will have a better idea of how strong the Colorado prosecutor’s case is against you.
Your next court appearance may be weeks away, and you may be wondering what you should do during this time. The criminal court process in Colorado can be slow, especially if there are a lot of pre-trial motions. This can be a very stressful time, especially for someone who has never had any experience with the criminal justice system. This is why it is important to have a Colorado criminal defense attorney who keeps you informed and communicates the progress of your case.
Most criminal cases resolve with a plea agreement (“plea bargain”), where the defendant enters a plea of guilt or no contest. But defendants have the choice to have a bench trial or a jury trial instead. At trial, the state has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defendant gets convicted, the court would then hold a sentencing hearing.
Call us for help…
If you have any questions about an arraignment or any other part of the criminal court process in Colorado, please contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group to discuss creating an attorney-client relationship. We serve clients in Denver, Greeley, Colorado Springs, and throughout the state.
- CRS 16-7-201 et seq; see also People v. Adargo, (Colo. App. 1980) 622 P.2d 593. Note that in most cases following an arrest by law enforcement, defendants will have the opportunity to bail out or be released on personal recognizance. In some cases, the defendant’s attorney may be able to contact prosecutors and try to convince them there was insufficient probable cause to make the arrest, or that the state does not have enough evidence to sustain a conviction. If the prosecutors agree, the charges could be dropped before the arraignment occurs.
- CRS 16-7-202.
- See also People v. Neuhaus, (2012) CO 65, 289 P.3d 19.