When people talk about the arraignment, there is a misconception that a defendant does not need an attorney to be at this stage of the proceedings. While the arraignment is our first introduction to the reaching the court house steps, the absence of an attorney can lead down the road of disaster. Today, we are going to discuss the topic of the arraignment and then provide commentary from three lawyers that also have served as educators in our profession to develop a greater understanding of the issue.
When we look up the topic of the arraignment in Black’s Law Dictionary, we find that the issue is defined as a formal reading of a criminal charging document in the presence of the defendant to inform the defendant of the charges against him or her. In response to arraignment, the accused is expected to enter a plea. In the law school classroom, the topic is not generally discussed in detail and until you take a Barbri course or listen to a Hugh Reed lecture while studying for the bar exam, there is not much said on the topic other than it is one of the 8 testable issues where the right to an attorney attaches. Reality differs greatly from the Michigan Bar Exam and while the Michigan Board of Bar Examiners will test on it, the courtroom will test the issue in far greater detail. Due to the misconception that the arraignment is not a pivotal topic, we decided to get insight from leaders in the criminal defense field.
Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates and has developed a reputation for having the top criminal defense firm in the state of Michigan. In addition to being a leader in the field, Grabel has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School. Grabel stated, “The arraignment is the first step but it truly sets the tone for what is forthcoming. Quite often, we will visit a client in jail before even being retained because we want to let the court and the prosecutor know that we are here to protect our client’s constitutional rights. When the day of the arraignment comes, we have our notice of appearance and demand for discovery in and we are ready to argue for bond. If you’re not ready, the client will suffer.”
Matthew McManus is the founding partner of Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan and has developed a research system of analytics on the arraignment. In addition to his legal duties, McManus had developed a reputation as an educator in essay review for the Michigan Bar Exam. McManus was quoted as saying, “If you are not prepared for an arraignment, you need to be prepared for a higher bond. Being present and prepared at the arraignment comes down to diligence and economics. Studies have displayed that those without counsel at the arraignment pay much more in court costs than those that are represented. It really comes down to economic stability and not having an attorney at that stage is a tremendous risk.”
Ravi Gurumurthy is the founder of Michigan Legal North in Cadillac, Michigan and an Associate for Grabel and Associates. In addition to this, Gurumurthy is a professor at Baker College. Gurumurthy provided insight when he said, “When you do not have an attorney at an arraignment, the prosecutor’s office does not afford you the same respect as the defendant who does have counsel. It may be the first step of the game but without counsel, the defendant is assuming a great deal of risk at the arraignment stage.”
While these lawyers and educators have provided insight, it is important that the client does their own homework on the issue. If the defendant is not proactive in finding counsel before an arraignment, they are compromising their constitutional protections after the arraignment.
William Amadeo is a partner at the law firm Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan and a Senior Associate at Grabel and Associates. In addition to his profession as an attorney, Amadeo owns BAT Tutoring with fellow lawyer Ashley Johnson and serves as a staff writer for “The Chronicle News” and several other websites. Amadeo can be reached at Amadeo@McManuspllc.com or Williamamadeo@Grabellaw.com.