After a defendant has been arrested, he will be scheduled for an arraignment. The defendant may have been released on bail or his own recognizance, or he may have been required to remain in jail until his arraignment. An arraignment is a proceeding whereby the offense that the defendant is charged with is read to him and he enters a plea to the offense charged. The defendant is also apprised of his right to:
- Be present.
- Right to an arraignment.
- Right to counsel.
- Right to receive a copy of the accusatory instrument.
- Right to appear pro se.
Advisement of Counsel
Because the arraignment constitutes a formal proceeding, the defendant is entitled to the assistance of counsel. If the defendant is not represented by counsel at the arraignment, the court is required to advise him that he is entitled to the assistance of counsel. Furthermore, if it is established that the defendant is indigent, he would be entitled to the appointment of legal counsel. If the defendant does seek the assistance of counsel, the arraignment will be adjourned until counsel has been retained or appointed by the court. If defendant is not represented by counsel at his arraignment reversible error will not automatically result unless the defendant is able to establish that prejudicial error occurred.
Entry of Plea
The defendant is required to enter a plea at his arraignment. The defendant may enter a guilty, no contest, also referred to as nolo contendere, or not guilty plea. If the defendant enters a guilty or no contest plea, the court will advise the defendant that he is waiving his right to a trial on the offense charged. The court must ensure that the guilty or no contest plea is made in a free, voluntary, and intelligent manner. If the defendant enters a not guilty plea, the matter will be set for trial. Perhaps a date for a pre-trial hearing to discuss evidentiary matters will also be set at this time.
Timing of Arraignment
The timing of the defendant’s arraignment varies from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The timing of the arraignment may be significant later when determining whether the defendant’s right to a speedy trial was adhered to. The defendant may also opt to waive his right to an arraignment. The defendant would then simply go to trial.
Preparation for the Arraignment
The defendant or defense counsel may want to prepare for the arraignment. Interviews of witnesses, review of the charges, and review of the accusatory instruments used may be of assistance. Also, if the defendant plans on entering a not guilty plea this may be a time for the defense attorney or for the defendant if he is representing himself to prepare a trial strategy. The defense attorney or defendant if not represented by counsel, may approach the prosecution to discuss the possibility of a deal or plea bargain. Often times the prosecutor will approach the defendant and present a deal. The defendant can accept the deal and may enter a guilty or conditional guilty plea. The court ultimately must accept the defendant’s plea regardless of whether he entered into a plea bargain or not.