An arraignment is your first time before the court and is a very short hearing usually lasting ten minutes or less. The process and matters considered at an arraignment can differ depending on the county, but the general format remains the same. 

  • The magistrate will present a formal explanation of the charges against you. You have the right to know what you are being charged with.
  • Informed of the right to a lawyer. You have the right to an attorney and will need to tell the court whether you plan to hire an attorney, represent yourself, or see if you are qualified to be assigned a public defender.
  • You will be asked to plead. You are not required to enter a plea at this time and should consult your lawyer who can help you with your decision and explain to you your rights. If you should choose to plead, you can plead guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere.
  • Bail will be set. Bail will be set or not set according to a list of factors found in § 19.2-120 of the Code of Virginia. If bail is deemed appropriate, the terms of bail are set based on the factors found in § 19.2-121 of the Code of Virginia. If you are not granted bail or the bail is set too high an attorney can help you determine whether to appeal the decision.
  • Your next court appearance will be set.

  • You may be tempted to try to explain your case to the magistrate at this point, but it is best, even if you are innocent, to avoid these kinds of statements at this preliminary hearing. After consulting with an attorney you will have a better understanding of how to best tell your story to the court.


    See also:

  • Code of Virginia § 19.2-120
  • Code of Virginia § 19.2-121
  • Code of Virginia § 19.2-124
  • Code of Virginia § 19.2-254
  • Court-Appointed Counsel Procedures and Guidelines
  • The Process
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