An arraignment is a court hearing at which someone charged with a crime, known as the defendant, is advised of his or her rights and enters a plea. Arraignments in Montana may be held in person or by video. The judge must first advise the defendant of the charge against him or her. Usually, the judge reads the criminal complaint out loud to accomplish this objective. If the defendant does not have a copy of the complaint, the judge must provide one. By law, before a plea is entered, the judge must also advise the defendant of his or her legal rights. These include the right to assistance of counsel, the right to a jury trial, the right to remain silent, the right against self-incrimination, the right to plead not guilty, the right to confront witnesses, and the right to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. All of these legal rights are important because they support the American criminal justice system, in which a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Also at arraignment, the defendant must be told the possible punishment for the offense charged. If the defendant and the State have entered into a plea agreement, the judge must advise the defendant regarding the law relating to those agreements. For example, the judge must tell the defendant that the court does not have to approve plea agreements. After the defendant has been fully apprised of the crime, his or her rights, and the potential penalty, a plea may be entered. A defendant may plead not guilty, guilty, or nolo contendere, which means "no contest." However, the plea must be voluntary and must be made with full appreciation of its consequences. If you enter a guilty plea or a plea of nolo contendere, your next court appearance will be for sentencing. If you enter a not guilty plea, your case will be set for a jury trial. If you have been accused of DUI, it is important that you speak to an experienced attorney about your options. The law firm of Tipp & Buley provides criminal defense services to clients across Western Montana. To schedule a confidential consultation, please visit our website online or call 406-549-5186.