What is an Arraignment?
An Arraignment is a formal reading of a criminal complaint in the presence of the defendant to inform him of the charges against him.
In response to arraignment, the accused is expected to enter a plea. Acceptable pleas vary among jurisdictions, but they generally include “guilty”, “not guilty”, and the peremptory pleas (or pleas in bar) setting out reasons why a trial cannot proceed.
Pleas of “nolo contendere” (no contest) and the “Alford plea” are allowed in some circumstances.
What to expect at Arraignment…
Arraignments vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, it usually conforms to the following principles:
- The accused person (defendant) is addressed by name;
- The charge against the accused person is read, including the alleged date, time, and place of offense (and sometimes the names of the state’s witnesses and the range of punishment for the charge(s)); and,
- The accused person is asked formally how he or she pleads.
What you should know about guilty and not-guilty pleas..
If the defendant pleads guilty, an evidentiary hearing will follow. The court is not required to accept a guilty plea. During the hearing, the judge assesses the offense, the mitigating factors, and the defendant’s character, and passes sentence.
If the defendant pleads not guilty, a date is set for a preliminary hearing or a trial.
In the past, a defendant who refused to plea (“stood mute”) was subject to peine forte et dure (French Law for “strong and hard punishment”).
Today in common-law jurisdictions, the court enters a plea of not guilty for a defendant who refuses to enter a plea. The rationale for this is the defendant’s right to silence.