Arraignment is a formal reading of a criminal complaint 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 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. The defendant is asked whether he or she pleads guilty or not guilty to each individual charge. This process is the same in Australian jurisdictions.
In federal courts in the United States, 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. During this arraignment the defendant is informed of any pending legal charges and is informed of his or her right to retain counsel. The presiding judge will also decide whether or not to set bail, and, if so, at what amount. The second arraignment is called a post-indictment arraignment or PIA. It is during this second arraignment that a defendant will be allowed to enter a plea.
Form of the arraignment
The wording of the arraignment varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, it generally conforms with the following principles:
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 will assess the offense, mitigating factors, and the defendant's character, and pass sentence.
If the defendant pleads not guilty, a date will be set for a preliminary hearing or a trial.
In the past, a defendant who refused to plead (or "stood mute") would be subject to peine forte et dure (Law French for "strong and hard punishment"). Today in common law jurisdictions, defendants who refuse to enter a plea will have a plea of not guilty entered for them by the court. The rationale for this is the defendant's right to silence.
This is also often the stage at which arguments in favor or against pre-trial release and bail are made, depending on the alleged crime and jurisdiction.
United States Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure
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