Criminal Law Basics: Arraignment Explained

Criminal arraignment is the initial court appearance that takes place after a person has been arrested on suspicion of committing a crime. 

When will the arraignment take place?

It is possible that the arraignment may not occur for several months or over a year in some jurisdictions (especially if the defendant is out of custody), even though the case has been accused or indicted. Bond is also not set at arraignment. That is preset by the charges or at a first appearance hearing in the case of felony cases and therefore happens a long time before arraignment.

During the arraignment 

Different states conduct arraignments according to their laws and constitution. In some states, the defendant will be advised on their constitutional rights. In some states, the defendant may be represented by their attorney at the arraignment. Most of the time the clients do not need to be at the arraignment if they have retained an attorney – but that is a case by case issue. Witnesses are not subpoenaed for arraignment, and you cannot have a trial at arraignment.

At the arraignment, the charges are supposed to be read to the defendant. However, in most instances this does not happen as the formal reading of the charges is typically waived to save time. The defendant can also request that they are given a copy of the charging document.

The defendant can choose to plead guilty or not guilty or no contest. The defendant then enters their initial plea, which they are allowed to change later. They can close their case at arraignment or move to the next stage of the trial process.

After the defendant has entered their plea, the judge may then decide whether or not they are eligible for bail and the defendant will either be released pending a trial date or sent to prison until the trial takes place.

If the defendant enters a plea of guilty or no contest, it is possible that the sentence will be decided then and there if the crime is a minor misdemeanor. If the defendant pleads not guilty, their defense attorney will review the case, and it is up to the prosecution to prove that the accused is guilty of the crimes they have been charged with.

Can a Defendant Waive Arraignment?

Some states allow individuals to waive arraignment. Usually, this is agreed if a defense attorney can negotiate an agreement as to the conditions of release, alternatively a separate hearing to negotiate terms of release may be made. 

If you have been arrested or received a notice of arraignment, it is imperative to seek legal guidance as soon as possible. An experienced defense attorney can ensure your rights are protected and can help guide you through the arraignment process. Contact John Totten for further information today!

Written by John M. Totten

John M. Totten

John's office is in Athens, Alabama, where he has helped thousands of people in North Alabama with everything from family law issues, to catastrophic injury and death cases, to criminal defense.