Court Process » Arraignment


What is the Arraignment or First Appearance in Minnesota criminal court?

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A defendant must appear in court in response to a citation or mailed court Summons. And the First Appearance in court, is the Arraignment and or simply the “First Appearance.”

Many courts in Minnesota also call it a “Rule 5” Appearance.  The reference is to Rule 5 of the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure:

Rule 5.01  Purpose of First Appearance
(a) The purpose of the first appearance is for the court to inform the defendant of the:

(1) charge(s);

(2) defendant’s rights, including the right to have counsel appointed if eligible; and

(3) opportunity to enter a plea as permitted by Rules 5.06, 5.07, and 5.08.

(b) The court must first determine whether a defendant is disabled in communication as defined in Rule 5.02.

(c) The court must ensure the defendant has a copy of the charging document.

(d) The court must set bail and other conditions of release under Rule 6.02.

(e) On the prosecutor’s motion, the court must require that the defendant be booked, photographed, and fingerprinted.”

So, under a narrow definition, “arraignment” refers to reading the charge; and entering a plea.  But we sometimes use the term to broadly describe the First Appearance in court on a criminal charge, as well.

“Should I have a lawyer for the First Appearance?”

It begins: the First Appearance or Arraignment in Minnesota Criminal Court
It begins: the First Appearance or Arraignment in Minnesota Criminal Court


The First Appearance in a Minnesota criminal case is like the kick-off that begins a football game.

It’s the beginning of the court’s process of protecting the rights of the accused and prosecuting criminal claims.  The First Appearance, or Arraignment, is first chance for your lawyer to communicate with the prosecutor and judge.

Retain a good defense lawyer well before this First Appearance court date, to allow for preparation.

This is the beginning of winning.

What happens at an arraignment?

At an Arraignment, the accused has the right to be informed of the prosecutor’s charge.

Though literacy rates are higher today; the defendant has the right to have the judge read the Complaint to her in open court.  Most waive that right and just read it themselves.

The Minnesota Court Rules of Criminal Procedure promise a speedy trial right as well as short time-frames for pre-trial procedures.  But most defendants waive these short deadlines, especially when not in custody.  Most prioritize winning the case over losing quickly.

The First Appearance is normally the point at which the court learns who the defendant’s lawyer will be.

The defendant may apply for a Public Defender defense attorney based upon income.

Or the defendant has the right to retain a private defense lawyer of their own choosing.

After formal retainer, the defense lawyer files a Certificate of Representation with the District Court. He files it either shortly before or at the arraignment.  After filing it, the lawyer becomes the attorney of record on the court file.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression

First impressions matter.   We want to make a good one.  So Gallagher asks his clients to dress for court and make a good impression.

Gallagher uses the opportunity to let the prosecutor know the defense outcome goal.  Often we have preliminary settlement exploration.  Gallagher listens carefully to the prosecutor’s concerns.  And we discuss next steps in the court process.

“Do I need to enter a plea” at the arraignment?

Thomas Gallagher, Felony Defense Lawyer, explains arraignment
Thomas Gallagher, Felony Defense Lawyer, explains arraignment

No. At the First Appearance or any later court appearance the defendant can enter a plea.  The plea could be “guilty” or “not guilty.”  In Minnesota, those are the only choices.  However, the defendant does not need to enter any plea at all at the arraignment or First Appearance.

Media commentators, and even some prosecutors who know better, vilify the defendant purely for pleading not-guilty.

But what does a not-guilty plea mean?  When an accused person pleads not-guilty, she asserts of her Constitutional rights. We are innocent; and have the right to trial. This requires the government to try to support their claims with evidenceThe trial is the accused’s opportunity to challenge the government’s evidence.

Pleading not-guilty does not mean that the accused is “calling the accuser a liar,” or the like. After all, is every false statement the result of a lie? That is a naked attempt to reverse the burden of proof.

False accusations happen.  And we are not responsible for explaining why they are false.  It’s enough to know, and show, that they are.

If a defendant pleads guilty, the first part of the Criminal Court process is over.  In the first part, the question is whether criminal liability should attach.  If it does, the second part is sentencing.  Normally a defendant will not plead guilty unless part of a plea agreement.

Conditions of pre-trial release

In some cases where the defendant was not held for a bail hearing; the prosecutor may ask the court for pre-trial release conditions.

This is common for gross misdemeanor and misdemeanor cases, including DWI and domestic assault cases.

Common conditions include “no use of alcohol,” and a no-contact order and DANCO.

In most other non-felony cases, there are no conditions of pre-trial release.

In most felony cases, the prosecutor requests pre-trial release conditions.

Discovery becomes available

The Arraignment is also the deadline for police to deliver evidence to the prosecutor.  After that, it the prosecutor can provide it to the defense lawyer as discovery.  Sometimes the prosecutor later supplements initial discovery, as they get more evidence.  A common example is witness statements.

Normally the defense attorney will want to review the discovery before preparing any pre-trial defense motions. The judge will hear defense motions at a misdemeanor contested evidentiary hearing or a Contested Omnibus Hearing.

Prepare the Defense

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Once we get discovery from the prosecutor, we can review the available evidence.  If we see any favorable legal issues in the evidence, Gallagher prepares pre-trial motions.

We also prepare for the next step in the court process, the pre-trial conference.

Have a question about arraignment? 

Call Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer Thomas Gallagher at

612 333-1500.