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What is an Arraignment?

Updated on December 4, 2016

Arraignment, in criminal law, usually describes the proceeding in open court when an accused person is first presented with the written charge that has been filed against him. He is then called upon to enter a plea to it of not guilty, guilty, or (with the judge's consent) nolo contendere. Depending on the defendant's plea, the circumstances of the case, and the nature of earlier proceedings, the judge may: (1) fix bail; (2) assign an attorney to represent the defendant; (3) set a trial date; (4) pronounce sentence, set a date for sentencing, or order preparation of a presentence report; or (5) set a date for other proceedings.

Some confusion surrounds the term "arraignment" because it is sometimes applied to the first appearance of an arrested suspect before a judicial officer for preliminary screening of the grounds for his detention. Many of the same things can be done then as at the formal arraignment, which occurs later.

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