What is an arraignment?

An arraignment is the formal reading of one or more criminal charges against the defendant. It is the official notification to the defendant of what they are charged with and provides them with the opportunity to enter a plea. There are several plea options the defendant can choose, depending on the circumstances and the laws of the ruling court:

  1. Guilty
  2. Not guilty
  3. Peremptory plea (a reason why the trial cannot continue)
  4. Nolo contendere (no contest)
  5. Alford guilty plea (when the defendant claims they are not guilty but does not want to risk the death penalty or another serious sentence)

Federal Laws Regarding the Criminal Arraignment Procedure

When charged by a federal law enforcement agency with a criminal charge, the arraignment process includes two parts.

  • The initial arraignment. This must occur within 48 hours of the defendant’s arrest. If the arrest occurred outside of court hours, such as at night, over a holiday or weekend, the arraignment must occur within 72 hours.
    1. The defendant learns what charges are pending against them.
    2. The judge informs the defendant of their right to a free public defender if they cannot afford to hire a criminal defense attorney.
    3. Bail for defendant is set if it is not denied altogether.
  • The second arraignment. This is also known as a post-indictment arraignment during which the defendant can enter a plea if they did not do so already.

Individual State Laws Regarding the Criminal Arraignment Procedure

When charged by a state law enforcement agency with a criminal charge, the arraignment process varies by state. In some states the defendant’s arraignment must be held within 24 hours of arrest, in other states it’s 48 hours, excluding weekends and holidays. Your criminal defense attorney or public defender can tell you what to expect based on the laws of your state such as the Criminal Lawyer Peoria IL locals trust.

Videotaped Arraignments

Under some circumstances, a videotaped arraignment is more advantageous than attempting to have it with all involved physically present in the courtroom. Sometimes, for security reasons, it’s not practical to transport a high-risk defendant to the courtroom building. Sometimes, transportation of the defendant is too costly. Court personnel may not be able to attend in person, and this can be another catalyst for holding a video arraignment.

Pleas of Not Guilty and Guilty

  • Guilty plea. After entering a guilty plea, the defendant usually attends an evidentiary hearing. During that hearing, the judge will consider the charge against the defendant, their character, their plea, the evidence against them, and either accepts or does not accept the guilty plea. If the judge accepts the plea, he or she will pass a sentence on the defendant.
  • Not guilty plea. After the defendant pleads not guilty, the court will determine a date for the trial or a preliminary hearing in some cases. If the defendant refuses to offer any plea at all, the court automatically pleads not guilty on their behalf.

Thanks to authors at Smith & Weer P.C. for their insight into Criminal Law.