What’s the difference between an arraignment and a trial?

Answer: Life inside an arraignment courtroom tends to be far more hectic than at trial. The court’s calendar (the cases a judge will hear on a given day) is likely to be crowded, and the judge often has to move quickly from one case to the next. The courtroom will be buzzing with prosecutors, defense attorneys, and defendants, all waiting for the judge to call their cases. Sometimes, a judge will interrupt one case to make a ruling or take a plea on another. No juries are present at arraignment.

In addition to the hectic atmosphere of an arraignment courtroom, judges, clerks, prosecutors, and even defense counsel often sound as if they are speaking in a strange code. They routinely refer to courtroom procedures by statute numbers or the names of the cases that mandated the procedures. For example, an attorney might tell the defendant, “We’re going to have a McDonald conference with the D.A.,” or “We’ll schedule a 605 motion.” The latter remark doesn’t mean that the motion will be heard on an interstate highway. The attorney may simply be referring to a hearing to review a lab analysis of alleged drugs. Defendants confused by unfamiliar jargon should always ask for a translation.

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