Can Charges Be Dropped at an Arraignment Hearing? Only If This Occurs

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Criminal Records | September 14, 2022

Confused defendant on the right watches with a question mark over his head as the prosecutor throws charge documents in the garbage can, thinking can charges be dropped at an arraignment hearing while a judge strikes his gavel while sitting at the bench.

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When being charged with a crime, many individuals hope the charges will get dropped in order to avoid the trial entirely, and may wonder, can charges be dropped at an arraignment hearing?

The legal system is complex, so it’s important to know what charges you’re facing before you get to the arraignment hearing.

So, the first thing to do is to learn how to look up charges on someone. Namely yourself.

This can be accomplished by a simple process to check for charges against you online.

Once you know what charges you’re facing, then you can take steps to learn the answer to, ‘can charges be dropped at an arraignment hearing?’

Although unlikely, it is possible for charges to be dropped at an arraignment hearing, but only if the prosecutor chooses to do so, as judges do not normally have this power at an arraignment hearing.

Keep reading to learn more.

How Can Charges Be Dropped? (Indicted Vs Charged)

Charges can be dropped2 for a number of different reasons, some of which depend on the jurisdiction that the charges were brought in. One thing that is a common cause for confusion is the difference between being indicted and being charged and how this affects the possibilities of getting charges dropped.

Can Charges Be Dropped at an Arraignment Hearing? (The One Key Difference)

There is one key difference between being charged for a crime and being indicted for a crime: who brought the charges against you.

In many criminal cases, law enforcement may have made an arrest because they caught an individual in the act of committing a crime. When this occurs the law enforcement officers statement and any evidence are given to the county prosecutor in most cases. Once the prosecutor has the evidence, if they believe that it is clear a crime of some kind took place, they will personally file charges against the individual that allegedly committed the crime. This would be an example of being “charged for a crime.”

Screenshot explaining direct evidence and circumstantial evidence with yellow arrows pointing to the definition of each.

The other possibility is being indicted for a crime, in this situation, law enforcement officers may gather evidence that a crime took place but didn’t catch the individual in the act of committing the crime. Law enforcement will then take this evidence to the county prosecutor who will then show the evidence to a grand jury.

A grand jury is similar to a trial jury, however instead of a group of citizens listening to both sides of the crime and deciding if the individual is guilty of a crime, the grand jury only decides if there is sufficient evidence to conclude that a crime took place. If the grand jury examines the evidence presented by the prosecutor and decides that a crime took place, then the individual that allegedly committed the crime will be indicted.

Related Reading: Do dropped charges show up on a background check?

Beyond how the charges are brought, whether directly by a prosecutor or via an indictment by a grand jury, the end result is the same: the individual is formally accused of committing a crime and the criminal proceedings will proceed as normal.

With all that being said, it is just as easy or difficult to get charges dropped if they were brought by a prosecutor or as the result of an indictment.

Can Charges Be Dropped After an Indictment?

Yes, charges can be dropped after they are brought by a prosecutor or as the result of an indictment. Essentially, charges can be dropped at almost any stage in the process if there is sufficient reason to drop the charges. These reasons vary dramatically and many of the reasons that can be used to get charges dropped will depend on jurisdiction as most states have extensive laws regarding criminal procedures and what warrants a charge to be dropped completely.

Can Charges Be Dropped After Grand Jury Indictment?

Yes, an indictment and a grand jury indictment are used interchangeably in most situations. The main reason for the distinction and slightly different legal process regarding charges and indictments generally deals with the severity of the crimes.3

In many states, certain crimes require a grand jury to indicate individuals for certain crimes. The charges for these more serious crimes can not be brought by a prosecutor and thus an indictment is required in order for an arrest to be made and the formal charges filed.

Can Federal Charges Be Dropped After an Indictment?

Yes, Federal charges can be dropped1 the same as local charges. Once again, charges can be dropped regardless of whether or not they were the result of a grand jury indictment. However, it is often more difficult to get federal charges dropped. Federal charges tend to be more serious and will often require law enforcement to have extensive evidence and cause for bringing the charges, usually as the result of a lengthy investigation.

Related Reading: How to find out if criminal charges are filed

As a result, many of the common methods for getting a case dropped will likely be unsuccessful. New evidence may help get the charges dropped, but things like procedural issues or 4th amendment violations are far less common when federal law enforcement are involved. In short the process is often far more thorough, making getting off on technicalities unlikely.

Can Charges Be Dropped After Sentencing?

Charges can be dropped after a sentencing in some cases. When this happens the term often used is an appeal. After a sentencing, many attorneys may see fit to file an appeal with the courts regarding the results of the case.

This can be done for a number of reasons such as new evidence coming to light after the trial or plea deal has taken place, that exonerates the individual of the crime.

Department of Justie screenshot Offices of the US Attorneys with a yellow arrow pointing to the explanation of sentencing.

Just as with getting charges dropped before a trial, there is also the possibility for an attorney to appeal based on an unfair trial, a biased judge or jury or any number of reasons why the results of the sentencing should not stand. The result of an appeal will be mixed with many of them going nowhere. In some cases a new trial may take place or a new plea deal may be constructed.

Related Reading: How to find out if there are pending charges against me for free

Finally, in extreme cases there is the possibility for the charges to be dropped completely, thus allowing the individual to go free of any punishment.

Can Charges Be Dropped Before Court?

Yes, in most cases if charges are dropped at all, this will occur before the case ever gets to trial. Many law enforcement investigations may find evidence that points to an individual committing a crime at which case the charges will be filed immediately, especially if the individual could be a potential danger to the public, in order to get them off the streets.

Related Reading: What happens when someone presses charges against you?

However, the investigation may then reveal evidence that clears the individual of any wrongdoing and the charges will be dropped. Also most 4th amendment violations, and procedural issues will often occur very early on in the process, such as when the arrest takes place. If any of these are cause for the charges to be dropped, most attorneys will file for a dismissal of the charges as soon as possible in order to free their client quickly.

Can Charges Be Dropped After Conviction?

Yes, charges can be dropped after a conviction. This will involve the attorney filing an appeal after the conviction takes place.

Keep in mind that getting charges dropped completely at this stage will be very difficult as the conviction generally involves months of evidence gathering, all with the intent to strengthen their case and prevent things like the charges getting dropped.

Can Charges Be Added After Indictment?

Many individuals wondering can charges be dropped at an arraignment hearing will be wondering when in the legal process can charges get dropped.

Related Reading: How to get charges dropped before court date

Basically, charges can be dropped at almost any point in the legal process. This includes right after the indictment and the majority of charges that are dropped completely will occur during this stage.

Can Charges Be Dropped at Preliminary Hearing? (Can You Get Charges Dropped at an Arraignment?)

Whether or not charges can be dropped at a preliminary hearing will depend on the state, but in general it is possible.

Related Reading: If charges are dismissed, do you have a criminal record?

At the end of the preliminary hearing the judge can in some cases choose to drop the charges, based on evidence presented.

Can Charges Be Dropped at Formal Arraignment? (Can Charges Get Dropped at an Arraignment?)

Yes, charges can be dropped at a formal arraignment but can generally only be done so by the prosecutor, rather than the judge. This can happen for a number of reasons such as new evidence or because the individual cooperated with law enforcement in return for their charges being dropped.

Related Reading: How to check if you have an indictment

Can Charges Be Dropped at a Plea Hearing?

It’s possible for charges to be dropped at a plea hearing but fairly unlikely. If a plea hearing is occurring, it likely means the individual’s attorney does not think getting the charges dismissed is possible and thus is taking other means to get the best possible outcome for their client.

What Happens If Charges Are Dropped Before Court?

Charges getting dropped before court is generally the best possible outcome. For those wondering can charges be dropped at an arraignment hearing, although it is possible, the charges getting dropped before the court proceedings even start is the most common time for this to occur.

Dept of Justice US Attorney's screenshot with yellow arrows pointing to the explanation of an initial hearing or arraignment.

Once charges are dropped, the individual is essentially absolved of any wrongdoing and is free to go. Charges may still show up on a background check, but this is far better than a conviction showing up.

Can Dropped Charges Be Reinstated (Once Charges Are Dropped Can They Be Reopened?)

Just as charges can be dropped they can also be reinstated, often for similar reasons. New evidence may help to get charges dropped, however new evidence can bring these charges back just as easily.

Related Reading: How do you know if you have a secret indictment?

Charges getting reopened is not an extremely rare occurrence and usually happens when prosecutors have had time to gather more evidence in order to strengthen their case against the individual.

Can Dropped Charges Be Used Against You?

Technically, dropped charges will show up on most background checks that involve a criminal history check. However, it is fairly uncommon for an employer to be concerned with charges that were dropped. The vast majority of background checks are primarily concerned with convictions.

How To Get Charges Dropped Before Court Date

Getting charges dropped before a court date is a fairly complex process that will require the help of an attorney. However there are a couple of basic steps that can be taken to increase your chances.

Step 1. Hire an Attorney

When charged with a crime, hiring an attorney should be the absolute first thing you should do. Not only can they answer questions like: can charges be dropped at an arraignment hearing? But they can also help individuals understand their chances of getting charges dropped.

Step 2. Obtain an Alibi

For many crimes, simply proving that it could not have been you that committed the crime will be enough to get the charges dropped. If charges were brought, law enforcement likely already investigated a few potential alibis, however being able to prove something the police weren’t using credit card statements, or even video footage, can be the easiest way to get charges dropped.

Step 3. Cooperate With Law Enforcement

Certain charges can be dropped if the individual is willing to cooperate with law enforcement. This is especially true if the crime involves more than one individual such as drug related charges. Law enforcement are often willing to drop charges if it means being able to charge another individual with a more serious crime.

Step 4. Document the Investigation (If Possible)

Oftentimes charges will be dropped due to things like fourth amendment rights violations. In these cases having video or audio of law enforcement committing these violations can be an effective way to get charges dropped.

Having charges brought against you is a very serious thing and individuals in this situation should contact an attorney immediately. However, understanding the basic process and knowing the answer to questions like can charges be dropped at an arraignment hearing will go a long way in smoothing out the lengthy and complicated legal process.

Frequently Asked Questions About Can Charges Be Dropped at an Arraignment Hearing

Can Dropped Charges Be Used Against You?

Yes, although it is unlikely. Charges will appear on most background checks but most employers will only be concerned with convictions.

How Can Charges Be Dropped Before Trial?

Charges can be dropped before trial for a number of reasons. New evidence and 4th amendment violations are some of the most common reasons.

Can the DA Drop Charges Before Arraignment?

Yes, if charges are dropped by the DA, they will generally do so as early as possible to avoid wasting resources

Can Charges Be Dropped at an Arraignment?

Yes, the Prosecutor can drop charges at an arraignment if there is reason to do so. However, judges do not usually have this power during an arraignment.

Can a Judge Drop Charges at Arraignment?

Usually no, although possible in some states, in most jurisdictions judges do not have this power during the arraignment

How Can Charges Be Dropped Before Trial?

Charges can be dropped before trial for lots of different reasons. New evidence coming to light that exonerates the individual, and fourth amendment rights violations such as an unlawful search leading to the charge are the most common. There is also the possibility of a charge being dropped if the individual cooperates with law enforcement, as well as the possibility of the prosecutor dropping charges due to lack of resources

Can Charges Be Dropped at a Plea Hearing?

Charges can be dropped at any point in the legal process if there is sufficient reason to do so. The further along in the process, the less likely charges will be dropped as many of the reasons for charges getting dropped will no longer be relevant. There is also the issue of extensive evidence being gathered by the time the case is ready for trial, so new evidence that absolves the individual altogether is unlikely.


References

1Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2022). A Brief Description of the Federal Criminal Justice Process. Resources. Retrieved July 9, 2022, from <https://www.fbi.gov/resources/victim-services/a-brief-description-of-the-federal-criminal-justice-process>

2United States Department of Justice. (2022). Charging. Offices of the United States Attorneys. Retrieved July 9, 2022, from <https://www.justice.gov/usao/justice-101/charging>

3United States Government. (2022). Criminal Resource Manual 205. When An Indictment Is Required. The United States Department of Justice Archives. Retrieved July 9, 2022, from <https://www.justice.gov/archives/jm/criminal-resource-manual-205-when-indictment-required>

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