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What is an Arraignment?
An arraignment is generally the first appearance made in front of a Judge in court after a criminal charge is made. Sometimes the person charged is in jail, out on bond, or summoned to be present.
What Happens at Arraignment?
The procedural requirements for the initial appearance of the defendant are essentially the same for district and circuit courts. The initial appearance or arraignment generally proceeds as follows:
- The court should first determine whether the defendant is properly before the court.
- The court should notify the defendant of the charge.
- The court should advise the defendant of his or her rights.
- The court should give the parties an opportunity to obtain the presence of counsel.
- Release on bail or recognizance must be reviewed by the court.
- The defendant should be permitted to submit preliminary motions and given a reasonable time to file further motions.
- A plea should be entered for the defendant.
Notification of Charges
The court must give the defendant notice of the charges against him or her. In both the district court and the circuit court, this is accomplished by informing the defendant, in open court, by either reading or stating the substance of the charge.
Where the defendant has counsel prior to arraignment, the reading of the charge(s), or formal arraignment, is normally waived as counsel has either previously ascertained the charge (in the case of a misdemeanor) or has been provided with a copy of the indictment. In the absence of counsel, formal arraignment is required.
Your Right to Counsel at Initial Appearance or Arraignment
Each defendant must be informed of his or her right to an attorney. If the defendant may be imprisoned following conviction of the crime charged, but cannot financially pay an attorney, the judge will appoint counsel for the defendant. The right to court-appointed counsel does not include the right to a particular attorney.
The Role of Defense Counsel at Initial Appearance
At an arraignment, a criminal defense attorney will appear with a defendant and assist in entering a plea, address any issues with setting bail, and insure all the necessary requirements have been met for the prosecution to proceed. However, an experienced criminal defense attorney will so examine the charges and warrant. If the warrant or complaint is deficient, the attorney can seek to have the change dismissed. The prosecution must satisfy certain requirements for a warrant or complaint to be valid.
Any case that begins with the issuance of an arrest warrant, has the requirement that bailable offenses be fixed and endorsed on the warrant.
- District Court – At the arraignment, the district court is required to provide an opportunity for the release of the defendant on bail or on their own recognizance.
- Circuit Court – If a defendant is in custody, bail should already have been set, either upon the issuance of the circuit court arrest warrant or as a result of proceedings in the district court.
Except in capital cases, a defendant must be considered for pretrial release on bail or on their own recognizance (known as ROR, released on own recognizance) without having to make a formal application.
Making a Plea at Arraignment
In some cases, a criminal charge will be resolved at arraignment. In District Court, an offer of pretrial diversion may be made. In Circuit Court some cases are offered a “rapid disposition” or “rocket docket” agreement. In these situations, a defendant will plead guilty at arraignment in return for a quick resolution.
Defendants should be careful about entering a plea through one of these faster routes since it waives all rights to the discovery process and trial. That is not to say that they should never be taken. In some situations, the prosecution's offer for rapid disposition is the best option for defendants.