Anyone who has been arrested for committing a criminal offense must be taken before the judge for arraignment. This is the first formal court appearance a defendant makes when facing criminal charges.
During the arraignment, the judge will read out the offense the defendant has been accused of committing and inform them of the potential consequences of a conviction. Depending on the seriousness of the charge, a bond can be set during the arraignment hearing.
What is the general arraignment procedure like?
The arraignment procedure depends in part on whether the defendant is facing felony or misdemeanor charges. That said, the purpose of arraignment remains the same regardless of the charges. An arraignment is meant to serve the following goals:
- Informing the defendant of the charges they are facing, as well as potential criminal penalties if they are convicted.
- Informing the defendant of their rights, including the right to a fair trial as well as the right to legal representation
- Allowing the defendant to enter a plea. Depending on the charge, the defendant can plead guilty, nolo contendere, not guilty or remain silent. If the defendant enters a guilty or nolo contendere plea, the court may issue a sentence or set a sentencing date.
- Setting the pretrial conference, including the bail terms and conditions.
After the arraignment
The next steps following the arraignment depend on whether the defendant is facing a misdemeanor or felony charge. If the defendant is accused of a misdemeanor, a pretrial conference will be set where the prosecutor and the defense team will meet to discuss if the case will proceed to full trial as well as any plea bargains.
On the other hand, if the defendant is facing felony charges, a date will be set for a preliminary examination. This is the hearing that determines if there is probable cause for the defendant to stand trial. If the court establishes that there is no probable cause, the charges may be dropped.
Most people have heard the term arraignment used in reference to a person who is facing criminal charges. However, what happens during the arraignment is often not so clear to them. The arraignment is the defendant’s first step in the criminal justice system and the first place your defense begins in earnest.