What You Will Hear at Arraignment
Arraignments can vary from state to state, court to court, judge to judge, and case to case. However, with that said, judges (and magistrates) generally follow similar procedures in conducting their arraignments.
Many arraignments are often lumped together in municipal and county court rooms. For example, judges might hear arraignments on Thursdays at 9 a.m. each week.
When you actually arrive at the courthouse, you’ll likely sit out in the hallway until the bailiff (or an administrator) signals for individuals to enter the courtroom for their arraignments. In the courtroom, there will generally be a judge, bailiff, administrative support staff, and someone from the government to represent it against you.
The judge will generally give a brief overview about your rights and responsibilities at this initial stage of the criminal process. Then, the judge will go through his or her docket, i.e. file with the cases of individuals scheduled to be in court that day. The judge or his or her staff will then start to call out the cases one by one. You’ll sit in the courtroom until your case is called. Once your case it called, the judge (or staff) will generally do the following:
- Read the criminal charge(s) against you, i.e. person accused (now called the defendant for the first time)
- Ask you if you understand the nature of the charges
- Ask you if you have an attorney or need an attorney
- If you are indigent, i.e. cannot afford an attorney, the state will provide an attorney
- Ask you if you want to plead (i) guilty, (ii) not guilty or (iii) no contest
- (We’ll discuss the nature of these pleadings on the next page)
- If bail was set, the judge will determine whether to alter bail and/or release the defendant without bail (but with the expectation to return to court on his or her own)
- Announce future dates of the case, including the preliminary hearing, pre-trial motions, and trial
The case will proceed depending on how you respond to the judge’s questions, which we’ll discuss on the next page.
Next, let's briefly talk about your right to counsel at arraignment.