An arraignment is the formal appearance of an accused in court for the first time after an arrest. Arraignment may also be in response to a criminal summons to answer the accusations contained in the complaint or indictment. Arraignments are the first stage of court-room based proceedings. They take place after the initial arrest, booking, and bail phases.

At a preliminary hearing or arraignment, the prosecutor will give the defendant and the attorney copies of the police report and other documents relevant to the cases. These documents and evidence may be lab reports, blood or chemical tests, police reports, etc.

What Happens at the Arraignment?

During a typical arraignment hearing, a person charged with a crime comes before a judge. At the arraignment, the judge:

  • Calls the defendant by name to completely and accurately identify them.
  • Informs the defendant of the charges and the penalty for each charge.
  • Informs the defendant of their constitutional rights, including their right to counsel.
  • Receives the defendant’s plea of guilty, not guilty, or in some cases, “no contest.” Pleas of guilty or no contest result in the judge imposing a sentence immediately. A not guilty plea usually results in a trial date set within 60 days of the arraignment for felonies and within 30 days for misdemeanors.
  • Sets and reviews the conditions for release or bail.
  • Sets a future court date for a motion, trial, or any other court proceeding. For felonies, the judge must schedule a preliminary examination within ten calendar days of the arraignment.

When Must an Arraignment Occur?

Depending on the jurisdiction, the police may hold a suspect in custody for up to 72 hours before arraignment. If the defendant has been released on their own recognizance or has posted bail, the arraignment will occur within a short time after the defendant’s release from jail.

What is a Video Arraignment?

Video arraignments occur when the arraignment process is conducted by using videoconferencing technology. Video arraignments allow the court to conduct the arraignment process without transporting the defendant to the courtroom. An audio-visual link is used between the defendant and the courtroom.

The use of video arraignment solves problems associated with having to transport defendants. The transportation of defendants requires time and puts additional demands on public safety organizations.

What Is Not an Arraignment?

The following factors apply to arraignments:

  • An arraignment is not a trial
  • No witnesses are called in an arraignment
  • No evidence is heard in an arraignment
  • The police officers do not appear at an arraignment
  • The plaintiff does not appear at an arraignment
  • The guilt or innocence of the defendant is not decided
  • The defendant does not speak or make a statement

The only thing that occurs during arraignment is an initial appearance of the defendant which they are informed formally of the charges filed by the prosecutor.

Is a Personal Appearance to the Arraignment Required?

If a defendant is charged with a felony, they must appear in person at the arraignment. If the charge is a misdemeanor, the defendant’s attorney may appear on their behalf.

Do States Vary in the Arraignment Process?

The rules and procedures for criminal arraignments vary by state. Some states require counsel to be present. Other states require defendants to be informed of certain specific constitutional rights and consequences of a conviction. Some states allow arguments about bail and bail conditions. The defendant may also be taken back to jail until trial in some states.

Florida law requires that suspects held in custody be arraigned within 24 hours of their arrest, either in person or live video feed. In California, bail and release are discussed during the arraignment hearing. Defendants can have their attorney represent them in their place for misdemeanor charges, but the defendant must appear in person for felony charges.

Do I Have the Right to Counsel During Arraignment?

If a criminal defendant faces the possibility of jail time, they have a constitutional right to the assistance of counsel regardless of their ability to pay for it. If the defendant wants to be represented by an attorney but can’t afford to hire one, a government-appointed attorney will be assigned at no cost.

Government-appointed defense attorneys are usually called public defenders. Public defenders are responsible for protecting a defendant’s rights during all stages of the criminal process.

How Are Pretrial Release Conditions Set?

In some states, an arraignment includes setting conditions of release. Courts consider the following in deciding whether to release a defendant before the completion of the case:

  • Whether the defendant poses a threat to the community
  • The defendant’s criminal record
  • The defendant’s ties to the community, such as how long they have lived in the community and whether they have family nearby
  • Whether the defendant is employed in the community
  • Whether the defendant has a history of failing to appear before the court

The following may be available to the court in deciding conditions of release:

  • Release on the defendant’s own recognizance (ROR): being released on your own recognizance means you are released based on your promise to report for trial and any other court proceedings during your cases. Caes typically release defendants on their own recognizance only in minor criminal or when they have a minimal record of criminal offenses.
  • Defendants may be released ROR if they have a permanent local address and employment.
  • Bond or bail: if a judge requires that a defendant post bond or bail, the defendant must post money to the court to be released before the completion of their case. The court can require a cash bond or surety bond. If the bond is cash only, the defendant must post that amount with the court. Once the case is completed, the money is refunded, minus any fees the court charges. If the court allows a surety bond, a bondsman or bail bondsman is permitted to deposit a percentage of the bond amount with the court via a contract that the bondsman will pay the balance of the bond if the defendant does not appear for court and cannot be located.
    • Defendants must pay the bondsman a non-refundable portion of the bond. The nonrefundable portion of the bond is usually ten percent. Defendants must also provide collateral, such as a deed to a home or other piece of real estate. A co-signer may have to guarantee the defendant’s appearance. If the defendant disappears and the bondsman is required to pay the bond to the court, the bondsman can collect money from the co-signer or take possession of the collateral.

What Can You Do If You Are Accused of a Crime?

If you are accused of a crime, you should immediately speak to a criminal defense lawyer to learn more about your rights, defenses, and the complicated legal system. At an arraignment hearing, a judge will make decisions that may have major implications in the case. It is important to hire an experienced attorney who can speak with the police and the court staff to obtain reliable information about the nature of the charges, the status of the case and assist you in the entire criminal process.

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