What is an arraignment?

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An arraignment is the process by which the defendant is read specific charges against him and to which he enters his plea, usually "not guilty". It is the first step in the criminal process after arrest. It is a brief hearing. All arraignments are conducted after the suspect is arrested and booked by law enforcement or summonsed to court. An arraignment takes place only after the prosecuting attorney decides to file charges. The arraignment in Superior Court follows the same process as an arraignment in the District Court. Bail and identity are established, charges are ascertained and the attorney of record is confirmed. An arraignment is a virtual formality prior to trial. Very few cases are dismissed at arraignment.


What Will Happen At The Arraignment And What Must The Defendant Do?

At the arraignment the defendant will appear before a judge. The defendant may appear alone, or he may bring legal counsel. An arraignment is the time where the judge will ask if the person appearing is the person identified in the charges. In addition, the judge will ask whether the defendant will plead not guilty. It is highly unusual that a defendant would enter a guilty plea at the arraignment.


8 things the defendant should do at his/her arraignment.

1. The defendant usually will be provided with a written allegation from the prosecutor. 2. The defendant will be asked to acknowledge his identity. 3. The defendant may have private counsel present or the court may appoint one. 4. The defendant may be told his possible punishment. The possible punishment is not a reflection on the case or the judges view of the case or the defendant. 5. After arraignment, the Court will enter a plea of not guilty on behalf of the defendant. 6. Bail is established. The defendant has a right to argue for a bail reduction. 7. Discovery is usually presented to the defense attorney. Discovery usually consists of a police report and a complaint. 8. If the defendant pleads guilty at the arraignment, the judge may sentence the defendant at that time.


The arraignment should not be delayed.

In Mallory v. United States, 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an arraignment should take place as "quickly as possible". Each state views a speedy arraignment differently. Consult with an attorney to identify how quickly the defendant can expect an arraignment. Generally, the rule-of-thumb is to expect arraignment to occur within two days after being arrested. If the defendant is arrested and released on bail or on his own recognizance, arraignment may take longer than if he is arrested and remains in jail.


5 things a defendant should do after an arraignment.

1. Ensure he has qualified legal representation. 2. Understand thoroughly the criminal law process from arraignment to appeal. Defendant's often compromise their defense because of ignorance of the criminal process and their rights. 3. Ask the attorney questions every step of the way. Seek advice of the attorney. In the criminal process, the defendant is the one who stands to lose the most. Ask questions frequently and be certain they are answered. 4. Assist the attorney in preparing the defense by understanding every option available. Explore all options before making a decision. Researching the situation is invaluable. 5. Remember that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Attorney Steven J. Topazio

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