Can Charges Be Dropped At An Arraignment Hearing?


If you have been arrested and charged with a crime in Colorado, your first court appearance will be the arraignment hearing. This initial proceeding is a critical stage in your criminal case. At your arraignment, you will be formally advised of the charges filed against you and asked to enter a plea.

Many defendants wonder – can charges be dropped at an arraignment in Colorado? While it is possible under certain circumstances, it is relatively uncommon for charges to be dismissed at this early stage.

What to Expect at Your Colorado Arraignment Hearing

An arraignment hearing is typically held within 48 hours after an arrest if you are in custody or within 21 days if you have been released.

The arraignment serves several key purposes:

  • You are formally advised of the specific charges filed against you and potential penalties if convicted.
  • The judge informs you of important constitutional rights, including the right to an attorney and to remain silent.
  • You are given the opportunity to enter a plea to the charges.
  • The judge considers whether to set, lower, or deny bail. You may be released on personal recognizance or bond.
  • In felony cases, preliminary hearings and trial dates may be scheduled.
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, the court may appoint a public defender.

Arraignments in Colorado take place in either county or district court, depending on whether you face misdemeanor or felony charges. You or your defense attorney may waive the right to appear, entering a written not-guilty plea instead. However, it is usually advised to attend your arraignment in person.

Can Charges Be Dropped at an Arraignment in Colorado?

Unfortunately, charges are rarely dismissed outright at arraignment hearings in Colorado. The judge generally does not have the authority to drop criminal charges at this stage unilaterally.

However, there are a few scenarios in which your charges could potentially be dropped during your Colorado arraignment:

  • Lack of Evidence: The prosecution may realize they lack sufficient evidence and request the charges be dropped.
  • Case Weaknesses: The defense attorney may point out fatal flaws in the case to the prosecutor, who then drops the charges.
  • Plea Deal: A plea bargain may be negotiated where charges are lowered or dropped in exchange for a guilty plea on reduced charges.
  • Mistaken Identity: Evidence arises of mistaken identity, so the charges are dismissed against the wrongfully accused defendant.

While these outcomes are possible, they do not happen very often at this early stage. Most cases will continue on to the next steps after arraignment unless your Colorado criminal defense lawyer can negotiate an excellent plea offer.

When are Charges First Filed in a Criminal Case?

Before criminal charges can be dropped at an arraignment hearing, they first need to be formally filed by the prosecuting attorney handling the case.

Charges are generally filed after the defendant has been arrested and the district attorney has received the police reports, witness statements, forensic tests, and other evidence collected during the initial investigation.

The charges must allege specific Colorado criminal statutes the defendant allegedly violated based on the incident leading to the arrest. These formal charges filed by the prosecutor represent the state’s accusations against the defendant.

Until the DA’s office files formal charges, there are no counts filed in the criminal court that could be dropped at an arraignment hearing.

Does a Defendant Have to Appear at the Arraignment?

In felony criminal cases in Colorado, the defendant is required to appear in person at the arraignment hearing unless excused by the judge. Only in limited misdemeanor cases can defense counsel appear without the defendant present.

The arraignment is such a crucial proceeding that the defendant’s presence is mandatory in more serious felony matters. Being present ensures the defendant hears the charges firsthand and can provide direct input to their attorney on the plea.

If a felony defendant fails to appear at their scheduled arraignment, the judge will typically issue a warrant for their arrest. Failing to appear makes it extremely unlikely any charges would be dropped.

How to Plead at Your Colorado Arraignment Hearing

The arraignment hearing requires you to formally enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest to each charge filed against you. Your options include:

Guilty Plea

By pleading guilty, you admit the criminal charges and waive both the right to trial and certain appeal rights. The judge will want proof you are knowingly and voluntarily pleading guilty. It is not advisable to plead guilty unless a plea bargain has been negotiated.

Not Guilty Plea

In a not-guilty plea, the prosecution has to prove at trial that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the most common arraignment plea, allowing time to build your defense case.

No Contest Plea

Also referred to as a “nolo contendere” plea, pleading no contest accepts punishment without admitting guilt. While similar to a guilty plea, a no-contest plea cannot be used against you in related civil litigation.

Don’t enter any plea at your Colorado arraignment without first consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney! The plea you enter on record can be very difficult to change later.

Can an Attorney Get Charges Dropped or Dismissed?

While the prosecuting attorney has the sole authority actually to drop or dismiss pending charges in a criminal case, a skilled criminal defense attorney can pursue several strategies to attempt to persuade the DA’s office that dropping charges is appropriate:

  • Lack of Evidence: Point out fundamental gaps in the prosecutor’s evidence or case weaknesses.
  • Invalid Arrest: File a motion to suppress evidence from an unlawful search or arrest.
  • Mistaken Identity: Provide concrete proof the defendant is not the actual perpetrator.
  • Credibility Issues: Attack the credibility of key witnesses the state relies on.
  • Plea Bargaining: Negotiate the dropping of certain charges in exchange for a guilty plea on reduced counts.
  • Pretrial Diversion or Deferred Judgment: Work out an agreement for charges to be dropped after a period of probation, treatment program, community service, restitution payment, or similar resolution.

While getting charges dropped entirely may be unlikely at the actual arraignment, skilled defense lawyers know how to strategically plant seeds even at this early stage so the prosecution sees weaknesses in their case. Building negotiation leverage starts immediately.

What Happens After the Arraignment Hearing?

The primary purposes of an arraignment hearing are to inform the defendant of the formal charges against them, have a plea entered to start the court process, and schedule future hearing dates.

What happens after the arraignment depends on whether it is a misdemeanor or felony charge:

  • For misdemeanor cases, a pretrial conference and/or trial date are typically set.
  • In felony cases, a preliminary hearing is usually scheduled next. This hearing lets the judge decide whether there is enough evidence to take the case to court.

Throughout the post-arraignment process, the defense attorney works to build the strongest case possible through investigation, motions, discovery requests, plea negotiations, and other means. The goal is to obtain the best possible outcome for the client as the case progresses.

Why Hire an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Having an experienced Colorado Springs criminal defense attorney represent you from the very start of your case is extremely important. A skilled lawyer knows how to proactively work toward getting charges dropped early on, not just sit back waiting and hoping for the best.

While most arraignments are brief initial proceedings, they lay the crucial groundwork for everything that follows in the case. Having the strongest advocate on your side maximizes the chance of charges being lowered or dropped as the case progresses through the criminal court process. Don’t leave the outcome to chance.

Contact a Colorado Springs Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing misdemeanor or felony charges in Colorado, time is of the essence. The experienced Colorado Springs criminal defense lawyers at Right Law Group can start building your defense strategy immediately. Don’t leave your fate to chance. Schedule your free, no-obligation case evaluation now.

Eric Lilly
the authorEric Lilly