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Some Timely Facts About Our Court System

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posted on Apr, 18 2006 @ 08:37 AM
When a person is arrested, he or she is brought before a court, usually required in 24 hours of arrest , Sundays and holidays excepted. This is called a preliminary hearing or bail hearing or an arraignment. The person will normally enter a plea of “Not Guilty.” Sometimes the guilt is obvious, and this entry of a plea of “not guilty” offends some people.

There are 3 reasons the plea of “not guilty” is entered at the first judicial hearing. These rules apply even when the proof of guilt is great or in rare cases where the accused wants to plead “guilty.”

1. An accused is not eligible for bail - pre-trial release - unless he makes a plea of “not guilty.” Sometimes, an accused may be willing to admit guilt to assault (lesser) but the state may charge attempted murder (greater). The first hearing is not the setting in which to make those determinations.

2. Defendants may not understand how the system operates. The defendant may not understand the consequences of a plea of “guilty.” It is premature for the bail court to accept an “uninformed” plea. The arraigning court does not have time or staff to make that determination. Even if a defendant refuses to enter a plea, the court will enter a plea of “not guilty” on his behalf. This plea also preserves all the defendant’s rights.

3. The arraignment court is not prepared to hold a fact determining trial, to hear witnesses, to take prof, to empanel a jury, and to impose a sentence. The arraignment serves 2 functions. First, it is the time to assure the person in court is the same person named on the warrant. Do we have the right person? Second, it is time to determine bail. The amount and conditions. Modern bail ranges from the most frequent, release on his own recognizance, to posting or depositing multi-million dollar bonds. Our Constitution defines no limit on the offenses that are bailable but it does provide that “excessive” bail shall not be required. Eighth Amendment. It is the judge’s responsibility to balance the seriousness of the charges, the risk of flight with the right of affordable bail before conviction.

I brought this information to your attention because I was watching a tv newscast where a person in Oklahoma had been apprehended under circumstances that pointed towards his guilt. The reporter remarked in passing that he entered a plea of “not guilty.” It is important to know our system begins with that plea of” not guilty,” even if the mater ends in a plea bargain or a trial. This plea is not meant to mock our system or our intelligence.


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