What is an Arraignment: All You Need to Know

what is an arraignment

An arraignment is the first step in a criminal proceeding where the defendant is brought to trial before the court to hear the charges against them and enter a plea.

They are brought either the same day or the day after the arrest and charged before a magistrate. At that time, the defendant learns about his rights and the charges against him. A defendant gets a defense attorney, and a judge will decide whether the defendant will be kept in jail or released until the trial in court.

An arraignment is the first court date for defendants who were never arrested (because they were served with a summons or citation instead). In felony cases, an indictment is delayed until a grand jury returns an arraignment. Despite differences in process, the basic structure of the arraignment is the same for all defendants.

When does the arraignment take place?

The arraignment must occur within a reasonable time after the arrest and usually within 48 to 72 hours of arrest if the suspect is in jail. If the suspect has gotten bail or issued a citation, the arraignment happens several weeks later. Precise timing, charges vary from location to location.

Unreasonable delay violates a federal Sixth Amendment constitutional right to a speedy trial. Suppose information or criminal complaint is provided and the prosecutor’s office or the court does not schedule the case for many more months or years for arraignment. In that case, the defendant’s defense attorney may request that the case be dissolved for the cause of delay.

Process of arraignment

At the arraignment hearing, the judge will read the criminal complaint against the accused (now called “the defendant”) and ask the defendant if he understands the charge (regardless of whether they agree with them). 

The defendant will be asked if they have a lawyer. If they don’t, the court can appoint a defense attorney. The judge has to inform the defendant of crucial court rights before proceeding.

Next, the defendant enquired about how he pleads to the charge. There are three options: not guilty, no contest, or guilty. 

A plea of dissent means that the person does not consent that a crime is committed through them but is willing to accept a conviction. Any request other than “not guilty” could end the criminal process on the spot.

The judge will then make or review the bail decision. The defender can be released on their recognizance or asked to post bail in a certain amount. Finally, the judge will announce court dates for preliminary hearings, motions to initiate proceedings, and court.

State variations in the arraignment process

Rules and procedures for criminal prosecution vary from state to state. For example, some states require the presence of an advisor; others require the defendants to be aware of certain specific matters of constitutional rights and the consequences of a conviction.

Sometimes there is an argument about bail and bail conditions. At other times, the defendant may be taken back to jail for up to court.

For instance, Florida law requires the arraignment of suspects in custody within 24 hours of the incident arrest, either in person or via live video. In California, discussion of bail and release are at the hearing. The defense counsel represents the accused in their place for misdemeanor charges, and the defendant must appear in person for the crime fees.

Rights and pleas for arraignment 

At the time of prosecution, some of the crucial rights that an accused must be aware of are-

  • the right to a lawyer
  • the right to confront and question witnesses,
  • the right against self-incrimination
  • the right to be released on sufficient cause for bail and 
  • the right to a speedy trial and justice.

Six different pleas made at arraignment are-

The accused also has the right to request a continuation of the arraignment. For instance, once the accused is aware of the charges and possible consequences, they can opt to consult a lawyer.

Pleads that arise in the arraignment 

Not guilty

Defense attorneys usually recommend that criminal defendants plead not guilty to charges. If a defendant pleads no guilty, the prosecutor must gather evidence against the defendant and then allow the defense to review the evidence, investigate the case and determine whether the evidence substantiates that the defendant earmarked the crime. A not guilty plea means the defendant gets the state to prove the case against him. A defendant may change a plea of not guilty to a plea of guilty later.


Sometimes a defendant may plead guilty to a minor crime at arraignment, such as disorderly conduct. If this happens, the judge can sentence the defendant to arraignment. The prosecutor and defense attorney can negotiate a plea and agree on a sentence during the prosecution. If the case is more serious, the judge will likely impose a sentencing hearing and request an attendance report.

No contest (Nolo Contendere)

Some states allow defendants to raise objections to inadmissibility. In this type of lawsuit, the defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that the prosecutor has enough evidence to do so and get a conviction. If the judge grants the claim, he proceeds as if the defendant pleaded guilty.

Dismissal on charges

One of the most important things that happen in arraignment is that the judge does it to decide on the granting of bail. They will consider the following factors:

  • Whether the defendant party has family links in the area 
  • The defendant’s resources and ability to flee
  • The danger the defendant poses to society
  • Criminal record of the defendant

If the judge decides to grant bail, he sets the amount. In some cases, such as when the charges are not that serious, the defendant possesses no risk to others, and the judge will release the defendant on their recognizance.

The judge may also set conditions of release upon arraignment. For example, if the defendant is charged with domestic violence, they may be decreed to maintain an exact distance from the alleged victim. If the alleged crime involves a computer, they stay off the internet.

Can the defendant waive the charge?

Criminal defendants usually have the option of waiving the charges, especially when it comes to the defendant having a lawyer.

A defense attorney can facilitate this process by communicating with the public prosecutor, the court, and a written waiver of prosecution. In some cases, attorneys will draft an agreement on terms of release and submit it to court with documents waiving charges. In other cases, the court will allow the defendant to waive arraignment, and schedule a separate hearing on release conditions.

Arraignment and the right to counsel

If the accused faces the possibility of prison, he possesses the constitutional right to the assistance of an attorney or “counsel” regardless of the defendant’s ability to pay. The government assigns the attorney if he wishes to be represented by an attorney but cannot afford to hire one.

These government-appointed defense attorneys are usually called “public defenders.” They are responsible for protecting the rights of the accused at all stages of criminal proceedings.


An arraignment is a formal process designed to ensure the protection of the rights of the defendant. The defendant should never try to argue the facts of the proceedings or present evidence during the arraignment.

The judge may not consider any evidence of guilt or innocence in this action, but the defendant’s statements in the arraignment can be incriminating and later used against them.


Can an attorney appear at arraignment without the client?

In most misdemeanor trials, the lawyer can appear on behalf of the defendant. For some specific misdemeanor offenses, the defendant must appear at the arraignment hearing even if represented by an attorney.

Is an arraignment hearing the same as a preliminary hearing?

An arraignment hearing is something different from a preliminary hearing. In a preliminary hearing, the judge determines whether there is enough evidence against the accused for him to stand trial.

How long does the arraignment process take place?

Generally, an arraignment is a quick and short procedure, taking only one day. The judge tells the defendant about the charges and other details, and the defendant responds to that.

Can I go to jail at an arraignment hearing?

No, you do not go to jail during an arraignment hearing, and it is just an opportunity for you to know about the charges against you on which you legally respond. After that, you have preliminary hearings.