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What Is an Arraignment?

An arraignment is usually the first part of the criminal procedure that occurs in a courtroom before a judge or magistrate. The purpose of an arraignment is to provide the accused with a reading of the crime with which he or she has been charged. This is required by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution as a protection against authorities holding those accused in custody for an extended period without telling them the charge. For that reason, an arraignment must usually occur within a set time period after arrest - often 72 hours. If this does not occur, the accused could have an argument that his or her constitutional right to a speedy trial has been violated.

Rules for Arraignments

The rules regarding arraignments vary depending on whether you are charged with a federal or state crime and vary depending on your state of residence. The rules differ on whether arraignments are required for felony offenses or needed for misdemeanors as well.  As a general rule of thumb, if you could be spending time in jail if convicted, you usually will have an arraignment.

Often arraignments are a multiple-step procedure. The first part is having the accused appear in court where he or she will be advised by the court of the right to be represented by an attorney and, in some cases, the availability of a public defender if the accused cannot afford an attorney. If the accused needs a criminal law attorney, this will be arranged and the actual arraignment scheduled for another day. Once the accused is represented by counsel, the more formal part of the arraignment, the reading of the charges, takes place.

At this point, the accused is expected to enter a plea: usually guilty, not guilty, or no contest. The no-contest plea means that the accused is not admitting guilt but will not contest the charges. Parties can waive an arraignment and merely enter a plea. Sometimes this is agreed to by the accused's attorney in exchange for something from the prosecuting attorney, such as expedited discovery or the like.

Conclusion About Arraigments

To conclude, arrangements such as bail and/or release are also reviewed at the arraignment, even if they have been previously addressed.  The court can also announce the dates of further proceedings, such as the pretrial conference and a trial date at the arraignment.  If you find yourself facing a criminal arraignment, retain a qualified attorney and pay attention!