Arraignment is a formal reading of a criminal charging document in the presence of the defendant to inform the defendant of the charges against him or her. 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.
In Australia, arraignment is the first of eleven stages in a criminal trial, and involves the clerk of the court reading out the indictment. The judge will testify during the indictment process.
In every province in Canada except British Columbia, defendants are arraigned on the day of their trial. In British Columbia, arraignment takes places in one of the first few court appearances by the defendant or their lawyer. The defendant is asked whether he or she pleads guilty or not guilty to each charge.
In France, the general rule is that one cannot remain in police custody for more than 24 hours from the time of the arrest. However, police custody can last another 24 hours in specific circumstances, especially if the offence is punishable by at least one year's imprisonment, or if the investigation is deemed to require the extra time, and can last up to 96 hours in certain cases involving terrorism, drug trafficking or organised crime. The police needs to have the consent of the prosecutor (in the vast majority of cases, the prosecutor will consent).
In Germany, if one has been arrested and taken into custody by the police one must be brought before a judge as soon as possible and at the latest on the day after the arrest.
At the first appearance, the accused is read the charges and asked for a plea. The available pleas are, guilty, not guilty, and no plea. No plea allows the defendant to get legal advice on the plea, which must be made on the second appearance.
In South Africa, arraignment is defined as the calling upon the accused to appear, the informing of the accused of the crime charged against him, the demanding of the accused whether he be guilty or not guilty, and the entering of his plea. His plea having been entered he is said to stand arraigned.
In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, arraignment is the first of eleven stages in a criminal trial, and involves the clerk of the court reading out the indictment.
In England and Wales, the police cannot legally detain anyone for more than 24 hours without charging them unless an officer with the rank of superintendent (or above) authorises detention for a further 12 hours (36 hours total), or a judge (who will be a magistrate) authorises detention by the police before charge for up to a maximum of 96 hours, but for terrorism-related offences people can be held by the police for up to 28 days before charge. If they are not released after being charged, they should be brought before a court as soon as practicable.
Under the United States Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, "arraignment shall [...] [consist of an] open [...] reading [of] the indictment [...] to the defendant [...] and call on him to plead thereto. He/she shall be given a copy of the indictment [...] before he/she is called upon to plead."
In federal courts, arraignment takes place in two stages. The first is called the initial arraignment and must take place within 48 hours of an individual's arrest, 72 hours if the individual was arrested on the weekend and not able to go before a judge until Monday. During this arraignment the defendant is informed of the pending legal charges and is informed of his or her right to retain counsel. The presiding judge also decides at what amount, if any, to set bail. During the second arraignment, a post-indictment arraignment or PIA, the defendant is allowed to enter a plea.
In New York, most people arrested must be released if they are not arraigned within 24 hours.
In California, arraignments must be conducted without unnecessary delay and, in any event, within 48 hours of arrest, excluding weekends and holidays. Thus, an individual arrested without a warrant, in some cases, may be held for as long as 168 hours (7 days) without arraignment or charge.
Form of the arraignment
The wording of the arraignment varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, it generally conforms with 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.
Video arraignment is the act of conducting the arraignment process using some form of videoconferencing technology. Use of video arraignment system allows the courts to conduct the requisite arraignment process without the need to transport the defendant to the courtroom by using an audio-visual link between the location where the defendant is being held and the courtroom.
Use of the video arraignment process addresses the problems associated with having to transport defendants. The transportation of defendants requires time, puts additional demands on the public safety organizations to provide for the safety of the public, court personnel and for the security of the population held in detention. It also addresses the rising costs of transportation.
Guilty and not-guilty pleas
If the defendant pleads guilty, an evidentiary hearing usually follows. 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 plead (or "stood mute") was subject to peine forte et dure (Law French 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.
This is also often the stage at which arguments for or against pre-trial release and bail may be made, depending on the alleged crime and jurisdiction.