An arraignment is the first step of a criminal case after an arrest. Its purpose is to inform the accused person of the charges against him.
The U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantees the accused the right to know what they are accused of. The Founding Fathers added the “arraignment” clause to protect Americans from languishing in jail due to political persecution. Since the Sixth Amendment closely ties arraignments to the right to speedy trials, arraignments usually occur within 72 hours after arrest.
An arraignment is composed of several important steps. Thus, the process is sometimes split into two stages.
At this point the arraignment may be rescheduled. A later date allows the defendant to have legal counsel present when he or she enters a plea. This is important because entering a plea officially puts the defendant on the record.
The defendant pleads guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere (“no contest”).
Compared to a trial, an arraignment may seem like a simple procedure. After all, at an arraignment, there are no witnesses testifying, no jury to convince and no pieces of evidence to present. However, an arraignment is a serious legal matter that should not be taken lightly.
Defendants who represent themselves, even at arraignments, are taking large risks, especially since bail is reviewed and a trial is proposed in a relatively brief span of time. In addition, just like a physician is frequently able to offer more assistance to a patient whose malady is diagnosed early, a criminal defense attorney can often better protect a client when the attorney is involved in the case from the very beginning.
To learn more about the arraignment process, get in touch with Rand Mintzer at 713-862-8880.