An arraignment is the formal appearance of an accused in court for the first time after an arrest or in response to a criminal summons to answer the accusations contained in the complaint or indictment. This is the first state of court-room based proceedings that take place after the initial arrest, booking, and bail phases.
Also at the preliminary hearing or arraignment, the prosecutor will give the defendant and the attorney copies of the police report and other documents that is relevant to the cases. These types of documents and evidence may be lab reports, blood or chemical test, 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 for the purpose of completely and accurately identifying him.
- Informs the defendant of the charges and the penalty for each charge.
- Informs the defendant of his constitutional rights, including his 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 plea of not guilty usually results in a trial date set within 60 days of the arraignment date 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, the trial, or any other court proceeding. For felonies, the preliminary exam must be scheduled within 10 calendar days following the arraignment.
When Must an Arraignment Occur?
The police are permitted to hold a suspect in custody up to 72 hours before an arraignment must occur (depending on the jurisdiction). If the defendant has been released on his own recognizance ("ROR") or has posted bail, then the arraignment will occur within a short time after the defendant's release from jail.
What Is Not an Arraignment?
Many believe that an arraignment just because an arraignment is in front of a judge and inside a courtroom, that an arraignment is somewhat a trial. The following is not considered an arraignment:
- 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 in an arraignment is an initial appearance of the defendant which he or she is then informed formally of the charges being filed by the prosecutor.
Is a Personal Appearance to the Arraignment Required?
If a defendant is charged with a felony, he must appear in person at the arraignment. If the charge is a misdemeanor, the defendant's attorney may appear on his behalf.
What Can You Do If You Are Accused of a Crime?
If you are accused of a crime, you should speak to a criminal defense lawyer immediately to learn more about your rights, your 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 in order to obtain reliable information about the nature of the charges, the status of the case, and assist you in the entire criminal process.