What happens at an Arraignment Hearing for a Felony?

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An arraignment hearing is a defendant’s first appearance before a judge after they have been charged with a felony. This procedural step is critical in the U.S. criminal justice system. It is designed to ensure that the defendant understands the charges and their rights under the law.

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The Arraignment Process

Formal Reading of Charges

At the outset of an arraignment, the judge formally reads the charges to the defendant. This is to ensure that the defendant is fully aware of the specific felony accusations against them.

Entry of Plea

The central part of an arraignment is the defendant’s plea. The defendant has the option to plead “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “no contest” (nolo contendere). A “not guilty” plea leads to the scheduling of a trial, while a “guilty” or “no contest” plea may proceed directly to sentencing, depending on state law and judicial discretion.

Determination of Counsel

The arraignment also serves to determine if the defendant has legal representation. If a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint a public defender or other court-appointed counsel.

Bail Consideration

The judge may address the issue of bail during an arraignment. Bail is a set amount of money that acts as insurance between the court and the defendant. The defendant can pay bail in exchange for their release from custody, with the understanding that they will return for their court dates. The judge determines bail based on factors such as the severity of the crime, flight risk, and public safety.

Scheduling Future Proceedings

If the defendant pleads “not guilty,” the judge will schedule future court dates, including a preliminary hearing, pre-trial motions, and the trial itself.

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees defendants several critical rights during the arraignment process, including:

  • The right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusations
  • The right to legal representation
  • The right to a speedy and public trial
  • The right to an impartial jury

Potential Outcomes

Depending on the plea and the judge’s decisions, the arraignment can lead to several outcomes:

  • Release on Bail: The defendant may be released from custody upon paying bail.
  • Release on Own Recognizance (O.R.): The judge may release the defendant without bail if they are deemed a low flight risk.
  • Remand: The defendant is ordered to remain in custody until the trial or another court proceeding.


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