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Do I need an attorney at an arraignment hearing in Utah?

As a general rule, it is best to have the assistance of a criminal defense attorney as soon as you learn that you are a suspect in a criminal case. It may not be absolutely necessary to have an attorney with you at your arraignment hearing. But to avoid making a mistake that will seriously hurt your case, you should first understand what will happen at an arraignment.

Arraignment Hearings in Utah Criminal Cases

The first court hearing in a misdemeanor case is the arraignment. The arraignment serves several purposes. At an arraignment hearing, the court is required to provide formal notice to the defendant of the nature of the criminal charges filed against the defendant. The court will inquire as to whether the defendant is represented by counsel, is planning to hire counsel, or is requesting the appointment of a public defender. The court will also ask the defendant to enter a plea of either guilty, no contest, or not guilty.

Why You Should not Plead Guilty at Arraignment

Entering a guilty plea or a no contest plea at the arraignment hearing is often one of the biggest mistakes made by a person facing criminal charges in Utah.

If a defendant pleads guilty (or no contest) at an arraignment hearing, the only significant issue left for the court to decide is what the punishment will be. In Utah misdemeanor cases, punishment can include substantial jail time and the potential for thousands of dollars in fines. Pleading guilty at an arraignment hearing without the assistance of an attorney deprives you of the meaningful opportunity to obtain discovery and police reports, to investigate, to file motions, to seek the suppression of evidence, or to take the case to trial.

In some courts, the prosecutor will not be present at the arraignment, and your only options will be to plead guilty as charged or not guilty. In other courts, a prosecutor may be present and may sometimes make a plea offer to reduce the charges or make a favorable sentencing recommendation.

Even if a prosecutor makes a plea offer at an arraignment hearing, without the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer you may not be able to immediately determine whether the offer is a good offer or not. In some cases, a prosecutor may make an initial offer that sounds good to an inexperienced defendant. But the reality may be that a much better offer can sometimes be obtained after conducting a thorough case analysis and developing a defense strategy.

By exposing potential holes in the prosecutor's case, an experienced criminal attorney may be able to negotiate a better offer. Or you may decide that the case merits setting a trial. Without the assistance of an experienced defense lawyer, you are at a severe disadvantage in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the case.

Felony Arraignments in Utah

In a felony case, an arraignment is not held until after the case is "bound over" for trial in the district court following a preliminary hearing or waiver of the preliminary hearing. In a felony case, you will normally have an attorney on the case long before the arraignment occurs.

Finding an Experienced Criminal Attorney in Utah

The sooner you have an attorney involved in your case the better your chances will be of obtaining a favorable outcome. Choosing the best Utah criminal defense lawyer for your case will be one of the most important decisions you make.

Based in Salt Lake City, criminal attorney Stephen Howard has successfully protected his clients' rights in thousands of serious felony and misdemeanor cases. His track record includes not guilty verdicts, dismissals, and appellate reversals on cases as serious as aggravated robbery, child kidnapping, first-degree felony drug distribution, white collar crime, and many more.

Contact us now to schedule an initial consultation with Salt Lake criminal defense attorney Stephen Howard.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
340 East 400 South, Suite 25, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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