So, what is an arraignment? It is the court procedure where a criminal will be formally advised of which charges are being held against him or her, and will then be asked to enter their plea. The rules of arraignment oftentimes differ between states. Some may decide at this time whether or not the defendant can be released pending trial whereas some will automatically remand them in custody and decide this at a later date. Some states also require an arraignment hearing to be held in every felony and misdemeanor case, which effectively means every single case in which a defendant can be incarcerated, irrespective of this will be in prison or jail. On the other hand, some states only require that an arraignment be held in a felony case.

court gavel law

How Soon After the Arrest Does the Arraignment Take Place?

An arraignment hearing must be held within what is deemed a reasonable time frame following the arrest. Any unreasonable delays will result in a violation of the defendant’s right to a fast trial under the Sixth Amendment. If a criminal indictment, complaint or information is issued, and the court or a prosecutor’s office doesn’t schedule the arraignment hearing until months or even years later, the defendant’s lawyer can move for the case to be dismissed due to this delay. A judge will then review the circumstances leading to the delay and make a judgment as to whether the delay was justified or not.

What Happens at an Arraignment Hearing

How a court conducts an arraignment, and what will occur during that hearing, varies from state to state depending on the laws and state constitutions. Again, what the court advises the defendant of will differ between states. This includes constitutional rights, rights to trial, their right to counsel and also their rights against self-incrimination. In some state courtrooms, defendants will be advised in a group of their rights before they appear in front of a judge. In several states, the defendant will have a constitutional right to have legal representation at their arraignment. Should the defendant want their attorney to be present, the court can’t arraign that defendant without first giving them the opportunity to either obtain counsel or be appointed a public defender.

Advised of Charges

During arraignment, the defendant must be informed by the court of which charges are being held against him. The judge will, in some states, read to the defendant the criminal information, indictment, complaint or any other charging documents. The only way this won’t happen is if the defendant waives their right to this reading. The defendant also has the right to a copy of their charging document.

Entering Their Plea

Once the defendant has been advised by the court of the charges against them, the judge will ask him or her how they plead to those charges. Their options are guilty, not guilty or no contest. A defense attorney will usually recommend that their client posts a not guilty plea at arraignment. A defendant usually will plead not guilty as this then requires that the prosecutor gathers evidence and also allows the defense team to review all evidence, fully investigate the case and then determine whether the evidence they have will prove the defendant is guilty of the crime. In short, by pleading not guilty the defendant makes the state prosecutor prove the case.