What Is Arraignment?

by Team eLocal
statue of justice on bookshelf in law office

If you're charged with a criminal offense, you may be required to attend an arraignment hearing.

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Appearing in court can be a daunting prospect, and understanding what an arraignment is and how it works can help you feel prepared.

What Is an Arraignment?

An arraignment hearing provides a defendant with formal notice of any criminal charges they face and informs them of their constitutional rights. During the hearing, the court may ask the defendant whether they wish to plead guilty to the charges or proceed to trial. Depending on the state, the court may also determine whether to release or detain the defendant before the trial begins.

When Does an Arraignment Occur?

Some states require an arraignment hearing for misdemeanor and felony charges. Meanwhile, other states may require an arraignment for felony charges only.

When an arraignment occurs varies from place to place. Typically, the timeframe between arrest and arraignment depends on whether the defendant is incarcerated. If the defendant is in custody, the arraignment hearing usually occurs within 2 to 3 days of the arrest. However, a defendant may wait several weeks for their arraignment hearing if they're released on bail or citation.

What Happens at an Arraignment Hearing?

The first stage of an arraignment hearing is to ensure the defendant is aware of their constitutional rights. These rights include the right to legal counsel. If the state requires the defendant to have legal representation or the defendant wishes to engage a lawyer, the arraignment must not proceed until they have obtained counsel. 

Next, the judge reads the indictment or charging document to outline the charges against the defendant. The judge may then ask the defendant whether they wish to plead guilty or not guilty, although they may allow a continuance in some cases. A continuance provides time for a defendant to consider their plea options with their attorney.

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What Happens After an Arraignment?

What happens after an arraignment depends on how the defendant pleads. If they plead guilty or no contest, the court may pass sentence during the arraignment hearing for minor crimes. Otherwise, the court will arrange a separate sentencing hearing.

If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case will go to trial. The court will then consider whether to detain the defendant in custody or release them pending trial. Whether the court agrees to release the defendant depends on several factors, including whether they pose a danger to others, any previous offenses and whether they've failed to appear for a court hearing before.

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