What is an Arraignment?

By Edward Tan, JD on May 10, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What is an arraignment? It's a crucial step in any criminal case. Life can present all kinds of surprises. And even the most upstanding citizens can falter every once in a while.

An arraignment is the first courtroom proceeding defendants will encounter. Are you itching to find out what an arraignment entitles? You're in luck.

In terms of timing, an arraignment comes after a defendant is arrested and booked. It also typically follows the bail hearing, but some jurisdictions combine the two together.

The arraignment is also the first time defendants will be allowed to speak for themselves. After the court reads the formal charges, the defendant will be able to enter their plea to each offense. The caveat is that, like on television, a defendant's only options are "guilty" or "not guilty." They can also plea "no contest" if their local laws allow it.

More importantly, the arraignment is where a defendant's right to counsel attaches. The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees defendants access to a lawyer in all criminal prosecutions.

But remember, defendants have the right to counsel from arrest through to the first appeal after conviction. The reason this right is important at an arraignment is because it'll be the first time the court actually assesses a defendant's legal representation. If they don't have a lawyer, the court can appoint one. Defendants can also hire their own attorney, too.

Finally, the arraignment is also where the court will announce the dates of future proceedings. Knowing what is an arraignment can make a criminal prosecution be much less intimidating.

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