Arraignments During COVID-19

North Carolina Pretrial Procedure: Arraignment

When you have been arrested and charged with a crime, one of the next steps in the process is an arraignment. Under section 15A-941, subsection (a) of the N.C. General Statutes:

An “[a]rraignment consists of bringing a defendant in open court …before a judge having jurisdiction to try the offense, advising him of the charges pending against him, and directing him to plead. The prosecutor must read the charges or fairly summarize them to the defendant. If the defendant fails to plead, the court must record that fact, and the defendant must be tried as if he had pleaded not guilty.”

If you are at the process of arraignment, you may be wondering if your arraignment will go forward as scheduled. On May 1, 2020. North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley issued an order with eight emergency directives regarding how North Carolina courts will operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of these emergency directives, instructs that all proceedings will be rescheduled until after June 1, 2020, unless they fall under an exception. While an arraignment is not specifically listed under the exceptions contained in in this emergency directive, because the list is not exhaustive, it can be presumed that such a proceeding could likely fall under the exception.

Arraignments under Justice Beasley’s Emergency Directives

North Carolina law allows for arraignments in a noncapital case may be conducted by an audio and video transmission between the judge and the defendant in which the parties can see and hear each other. Since these arraignments are already permitted to be handled remotely, they will likely continue during this period of limited court operations. However, they may likely be slightly delayed due to the backlog of cases that have resulted from the COVID-19 court closures.

Emergency Directive 3 contained in the judicial order authorizes judicial officials throughout the state to conduct proceedings that include remote audio and video transmissions. Arraignments that are not currently permitted to be handled remotely can now likely be conducted remotely pursuant to this emergency directive. Judicial officials who conduct an arraignment remotely must safeguard the constitutional rights of the criminal defendants involved and preserve the integrity of the judicial process.

As per the directive, the consent of the defendant is not required for the arraignment to be conducted remotely using audio and video transmissions. Further, because a criminal defendant in an arraignment does not confront witnesses, subsection (b) of the emergency directive does not apply. Lastly, so long as the directive’s requirements on 1. maintaining confidentiality, 2. recording of the proceeding, and 3. ability of a party to communicate fully and confidentially with their attorney, can be fulfilled, then the arraignment may be conducted remotely. Note however that if the judicial official believes the arraignment can be conducted under conditions that protect the health and safety of all participants, then it may be conducted in-person, notwithstanding Emergency Directive 3.

Can I waive an Arraignment

You may have the option to waiver your arraignment. This is a discussion that should occur between you and your attorney. If you are involved in the criminal case it is important that you obtain counsel. If you have counsel and have discussed your decision to plead not guilty, you may be able to waive your arraignment. This requires the filing of a written plea which is signed by you and your counsel.

Do I have a right to counsel at my arraignment?

Yes, you have the right to counsel at an arraignment. If you have not hired counsel prior to your arraignment, the Court is required to inform you of this right and afford you the opportunity to exercise this right. However, it is much better to obtain counsel prior to your arraignment, preferably as soon as you are aware of any criminal charges so that you and your counsel can begin working on and preparing your defense immediately. Delays in obtaining counsel can hinder your defense, particularly if you are considering a plea other than not guilty.

Your Arraignment

Due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, the operation of the state judicial branch has been dramatically affected. If you or someone you know has an upcoming arraignment amidst the coronavirus health crisis, contact our Charlotte criminal defense lawyers at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, to receive a case review. Call our lawyers at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, at (704) 370-2828 to evaluate your options or fill out our contact form. Now taking cases throughout North Carolina with offices in Uptown Charlotte, Mooresville, and Monroe.