What is an Arraignment and how does the process work?

There may be a number of court hearings when you are convicted of criminal activity. You might have seen in the movies where the convicted person just appears once and fate is destined. But things are different in reality. You might have to visit the court multiple times and for sure that will depend on the nature of your crime and the consequences related to it following an arraignment.

What is an Arraignment?

Once you are charged with the crime, the first step of the criminal hearing is the arraignment. Many times, the arraignment is scheduled just after the defendant’s arrest and booking.

For the defendants who have never appeared to the court as they were summoned or served with the citations, the arraignment is their first court appearance.

What happens in an arraignment?

At an arraignment, criminal charges are officially read in front of the person charged with the crime (either a felony or misdemeanor) by the judge. This is an important part of the American Judicial System where the defendant comes to know what charges he has been accused of so he can respond to them accordingly.

As said, arraignment is one of the fundamental aspects of the US judicial system because there was a lack of constitutional rights before it. Prior to arraignments, people were charged without knowing the crime they have committed until they are charged. Oftentimes, they were arrested without being told what crimes they were detained for. Cases are there, where people die in prison without knowing what crime they have committed.

These types of situations are still there in underdeveloped or corrupt countries with broken or biased judicial systems. Nevertheless, the 4th, 5th, 6th, & 14th amendments in the constitution ensure that these liberties are not violated. These constitutional civil liberties provide the right to a defendant that he/she has a fair and speedy trial, has complete information about the charges and penalties, and the right to refuse or fight them.

Following the arraignment laws, some states allow your defense attorney to appear in the required arraignment on your behalf. But this would depend on the severity of the crime. In most states, liberty is just granted for the defendant of misdemeanor charges. Moreover, certain misdemeanors are there in which the defendants are required to appear in the arraignment such as domestic violence cases, DUI-related cases, and the violation of the court’s order in a domestic violence order.

On the other hand, if you are charged with felony charges, you have to show up in an arraignment. Sometimes felony convicts in the custody are allowed to show up in their arraignment through a live video session.

How does the arraignment process work?

In an arraignment hearing, a defendant is presented before the judge. The judge will officially read the charges the defendant is accused of along with the expected penalties according to state and federal criminal laws. The judge will also ask the defendant if he understood the charges (doesn’t matter if he agrees with them or not).

The defendant will be asked if he has an attorney so if he does not, the court can appoint one. In both ways, the judge will make sure to notify the defendant about the important court proceedings and his legal rights.

The next step in arraignment is to ask the defendant if he likes to plead against the charges. A defendant would have three options: guilty, not guilty, no contest. A plea regarding no contest can be availed if the defendant does not agree that he committed the crime in question, but is agreeing to accept the conviction. A criminal trial could end on the spot if the defendant opts for a plea other than ‘not guilty’.

The judge will review or make the plea and bail decisions. The defendants will then be released by posting a certain amount or their own recognizances.

With this, the judge will declare the court hearing dates for pre-trial motions, preliminary hearings, and trial. Through arraignments, the judges make sure that the civil rights of the defendants are secure. This can also be possible when you have an attorney’s back.

How will your attorney help you in an arraignment?

You can hire a criminal defense attorney for your defense or can ask the court to assign you an attorney from the public defender’s office. These attorneys will aid you to understand the legal procedures of the trial and your legal rights.

The actual process in the common trial is similar to all states. But the requirements of the arraignment and what constitutes before and after the arraignment process may vary depending on the type of your case and your jurisdiction. This is why it is always best to use the court-appointed defense attorney of the defense attorney you hire to provide you with complete information about the trial and the arraignment.

Whether you have hired an attorney or you are working with a court-appointed attorney, they must advise you about the arraignment procedures and what to expect from the trial. He must tell you your right to plead and motion. Your attorney should:

  • Tell you to state to the court that you waive the right to hear the charges
  • Tell the court that you know your constitutional rights so the court doesn’t need to tell you again.

Although, if you need to hear them, the judge will read the accusations, charges, and the rights to plead to the court. These rights include:

  • The right to appoint an attorney or choose one to hire yourself.
  • The right to object and confront any witness accusing wrongly in the court and counter-question them
  • The right to go against the self-incriminating actions
  • The right to ask for bail until your trial date
  • The right to ask for a fast trial (usually that begins with the arraignments)

If you are arrested and taken to the arraignment, but you don’t know what is an arraignment nor have legal representation is, then you can use the right to request the judge to pause the arraignment until you get an attorney. Also, you can ask the court to appoint a defense attorney for your representation and then continue the rest of the trial thereafter.

Contrary to people’s belief, you have six types of pleas that you can make at an arraignment. Once you get to know and understood the charges, you can:

  • Plead no contest
  • Plead not guilty
  • Plead guilty
  • Plead double jeopardy (According to the US constitution, you cannot be charged twice for a single crime)
  • Plead not guilty because of mental health problems
  • Plead former judgment of acquittal (this means that you already have been convicted and released from these charges)

How long does an arraignment take to conclude?

As mentioned, the rules of the court proceedings for an arraignment may differ from one state to another depending on your case. For instance, many states only require the defendant to appear in the arraignment only if there’s a felony charge. Others may require them to appear in misdemeanor as well. Most states issue a bench warrant to the defendants with the details of their arraignments.

Besides, the arraignment is a short procedure where the judge reads the charges and asks how you would like to proceed with the case. It hardly takes another day. You may have to wait outside the court for your turn, but normally, it is a short process that ends in a day – sometimes in a few hours.

Does an arraignment send you to jail?

An arraignment is just a civil right to let you know the charges against you and give you the opportunity to act according to your charges. It does not send you to jail, however, it gives you a direction on how to proceed with your case.

After an arraignment, there would be a preliminary hearing in which the judge will decide whether there is enough evidence against you to move your case to trial or issue the verdict.

The preliminary is scheduled when evidence is presented to the judge and the court decides whether it is enough for a trial.

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It is the time of the case where the judge reads the charges against a defendant to ensure that he knows what he will be convicted of. The judge also let the defendant know his right to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest.

The abusive person may be sent to jail after arraignment if the court does not set bail. The court will let the abused free until the trial date. On the other hand, if the bail is set, the person will stay in jail or pay the bail.

After the arraignment, the person must follow a pre-trial conference to plead or submit motions that settle the case. If not, the court will set a trial date to proceed with the case further.


To conclude the term in question, what is an arraignment – It is a legal process where defendants are presented in front of the court to understand the charges against them for which they might want to hire an attorney or ask the court to appoint one. In some states, to request a court-appointed defense attorney you may need to meet certain criteria.

 No matter if you agree to the charges or ask for any of the six mentioned pleas, an arraignment is just an initial case hearing to begin your case after a criminal arrest.

After arraignment, there will be a preliminary hearing and a trial if needed that helps the jury to decide what to convict against your criminal act and decide your fate.