Arraignment .org
Judge's Gavel
The Arraignment Process and how it works
The Arraignment Process The initial act starting an arraignment happens well before the hearing. First a police or law enforcement investigation occurs that builds a case against a person. This could be initiated by a complaint from a citizen, a report from an oversight agency, or observant investigators. The law enforcement agency then takes its case to the local county district attorney or federal prosecutor and makes a recommendation on what charges should be filed. The prosecutor reviews the case package details and considers the legal chances of winning each of the recommended charges. The prosecutor may add additional charges, remove some, or deny the case entirely, sending it back for more investigation or dismissing it entirely. The sequence of events can be a bit turned around if the police happen to catch a person in the act of a crime, but the process is generally the same. With the prosecutor's approval a warrant is issued for the arrest of the accused person if it hasn't happened already. The accused person is booked at the law enforcement agency's processing office, capturing all possible identification such as photo images, fingerprints, name and address data, and anything else that can be legally collected (i.e. DNA sampling, clothing, evidence on the person, etc.). At the moment of booking the clock starts ticking for the arraignment process. Technically it starts at the moment of arrest, but the official paperwork typically doesn't occur until the booking records are entered. At arraignment the accused party is brought in front of the court under arrest. The prosecution presents its full case summary to the court including all charges intended to be brought to trial. In this process the prosecution reads out all of the accusations about the accused person, and a written record is officially provided. The written record of the charges involved is referred to as the indictment. The accused in the arraignment is now referred to as the defendant in the given case. The first step in the arraignment hearing identifies the defendant. The court then addresses the defendant to raise his or her right hand and confirm his or her identity for the court record. If the defendant refuses to plead, then the court will rely on the prosecution to confirm his identity positively. Alternatively, with a cooperative defendant the court will go through a verbal procedure reading the entire indictment and the confirming that the defendant understands the charges read. If the defendant has not already obtained legal representation then the court asks him or her if a court-attorney should be provided. In some cases the court will just appoint one regardless to ensure the accused is represented. The defendant is then asked by the court how he or she will plead in response to the charges read. This request is a turning point for the defendant since the entire issue can go to disposition with one plea or a full trial with another. Generally, most defendants have to plead either "guilty" or "not guilty." In some instances a plea of "no contest" is allowed as well, essentially not admitting guilt but not going to trial about it either and instead accepting the consequences of a guilty plea. One alternative plea can be allowed in some instances. Titled the Alford law plea, the defendant in such an instance avoids admitting any guilt but pleads in such a way that he acknowledges the evidence is probably not going to convince a jury in his favor. A judge can then either delay the proceeding to allow the defense more time to prepare a better argument or a guilty plea is recorded for the record. With the plea entered into the record the judge will reference the court calendar provided previously by the court clerk staff and will specify the dates for the next case proceedings and hearings. This will include such events as the preliminary hearing, motions and ultimately the final hearing, the trial. If the defendant recorded a plea of guilty or no contents, the next hearing after the arraignment will be an evidentiary hearing. Even if a defendant flat out admits guilt, the court can second-guess the capacity of the defendant and still require a trial. The evidentiary hearing double-checks that the defendant is not being railroaded with an empty case and that there is indeed a solid case for the prosecution to charge with. If the court agrees with the case then the judge will review the entire details, charges, and prosecution's request for a sentence, making a final determination public at the sentencing hearing.