Can charges be dropped at an arraignment hearing?

Can charges be dropped at an arraignment hearing

If you have a brush with the law and about to be arraigned before a judge, it’s normal to wish that the charges are dropped as soon as possible so you can move on with your life. But can charges be dropped at an arraignment hearing?

In this article, we take a look at the possibility of getting charges dropped as the prosecution produce you before a judge for the first time, the factors that can lead to such a situation and related topics. Kindly read on to know more.

What is arraignment

An arraignment is sometimes known as a preliminary hearing and refers to the first appearance of an accused person before a judge who lays before the accused, the charges, complaint or indictment they face and asks them to enter a plea of whether they’re guilty or not. At an arraignment hearing, the rights of the defendant are also made known to him or her.

An arraignment hearing can also be the occasion that a court decide whether to set bail and whether to grant bail on accused’s own recognizance.

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In effect, what happens at an arraignment depends on the jurisdiction of the court and the purpose is to allow the state to prove two basic things:

  • That a crime has been committed contrary to law
  • That the person arraigned is the one suspected to have committed it.

In California, section 858 of the Penal code is the relevant law that deals with the examination of the case, and discharge of the defendant, or holding him to answer at an arraignment hearing.

“858. (a) When the defendant first appears for arraignment on a charge of having committed a public offense, the magistrate shall immediately inform the defendant of the charge against him or her, and of his or her right to the aid of counsel in every stage of the proceedings.”

The opportunity afforded a defendant at an arraignment is to allow them to know the charges they face and any necessary information in order to enter a plea and prepare a defense. While the state also depends on the plea of the defendant to know how to proceed.

Can charges be dropped at an arraignment hearing?

The simple answer is YES, a person can be discharged at an arraignment hearing even though it is not a usual practice. Many things characterize the circumstances under which a judge or even the prosecution may decide to drop the charges. These include:

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1. Mistaken identity

It is the top reason why charges can be dropped at a preliminary hearing. As stated above, one of the jobs the prosecution has at a preliminary hearing is to show they have cause to believe the person arraigned is the one who committed the said crime.

If the police arrested the wrong person and went ahead to arraign such a person, once this mistake is established at an arraignment hearing, the only option will be to let the defendant go free.

Policing experts and officials at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers have said that arrests due to mistaken identity occurs almost every day. Most often, people who are wrongly arrested are released immediately the police realize their mistake, however a few may end up being arraigned.

If you happen to be in this bracket of persons, a judge realizing this would dismiss the charges against you and set you free.

2. Lack of evidence to support charges

The prosecution is supposed to show probable cause to support the allegations leveled against you. While a probable cause is what is needed for a trial to go ahead, don’t mistake that for the requirement of proving beyond reasonable doubt your guilt by the prosecution in order to secure a conviction.

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If the judge cannot find probable cause from the case of the prosecution during an arraignment, the judge can dismiss the charges. Obviously if the prosecution can’t prove probable cause, then it would be impossible for them to prove beyond reasonable doubt, a much higher level of proof.

3. Charges under the wrong law

The prosecution in preparing their charges can make a mistake by misapplying the law and charge a suspect under the wrong law. When the judge realizes this at an arraignment, the defendant can be discharged. The prosecution will have to go back and prepare the appropriate charges under the applicable laws.

4. Early plea deal

Charges can also be dropped if your defense attorney and the prosecutor are able to reach an early plea deal at the arraignment hearing.


While it is not usual that a judge orders charges to be dismissed or prosecution dropping charges at an arraignment hearing, charges can however be dropped at an arraignment hearing in the special circumstances detailed above. You can also read the signs that a criminal case is weak and will be dismissed

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