You are sitting there in a jail cell, handcuffs around your wrists. If you were in some other countries, you may be in that jail cell for an interminable amount of time, and you may not know for a while (if ever) why you are in prison.
Fortunately, you do live in the United State of America, where our legal system is partial to individuals and give them the benefit of the doubt. This means that if you are arrested and accused of a crime, you have the right to know as much information about the crime for which you are accused.
About an Arraignment
In the American judicial system, prisoners and the accused are given an opportunity to face and answer the charges, in something called an arraignment.
The arraignment is an initial court hearing, where the prosecution introduces the charges that it is leveling against you, and it is the opportunity for you to answer to those charges to determine the parameters of a future hearing – whether you plead guilty and have a sentencing hearing, or whether you plead not guilty and set up a discovery hearing and future trial.
How Does an Arraignment Work?
When you are entering the courtroom for an arraignment, or initial court appearance, there is a process that each hearing goes through, several steps to ensure full transparency of the charges and the next steps.
The first step when you enter the courtroom is that you would be advised part of your Miranda rights about the right to an attorney to represent you, or that a public defender would be available to represent you if you cannot afford one. If counsel needs to be assigned, it will be assigned at this time, and the rest of the arraignment hearing can be scheduled for a different date.
If you enter the arraignment hearing with a defense attorney representing you, you can go into the next step of the arraignment, which is when the court introduces the charges that are levied against you, and you have a chance to enter a plea to those charges.
At that point, you can plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the charges. If you plead no contest, you do not assume guilt, but it just means you will not contest the charges with a trial. A guilty plea leads to a future sentencing hearing, while a not-guilty plea will begin the process of discovery hearings and a trial date.
Defend Your Rights
An arraignment is the first step in a criminal process, but it is one of the unique aspects to the Western criminal justice system that allows you to stand up for your rights and fight for your freedom and the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven.