A felony arraignment is a court proceeding and a significant aspect of criminal procedure. Felony arraignments are one of the first steps in the process of being formally charged with a felony. These hearings function to apprise defendants of their constitutional rights, particularly the 6th Amendment right to be informed of the crime for which a defendant is accused. During an arraignment, a defendant typically comes into contact with the attorney who will prosecute the case against him for the first time.
Arraignment vs. Preliminary Hearing
Arraignments differ from preliminary hearings. Preliminary hearings are much like grand jury proceedings. During preliminary hearings, judges determine whether sufficient evidence exists for a defendant to stand trial. Defendants may waive preliminary hearings, meaning they are not required to be present. Arraignments differ from preliminary hearings in that the determination as to whether enough probable cause exists to charge a defendant has already been established. Additionally, a defendant's presence is typically required at a felony arraignment.
Informed of Rights
During a felony arraignment, a defendant is informed of his constitutional rights. If a defendant has not obtained counsel by the time of his arraignment, he will be informed of his 6th Amendment right to counsel. If for some reason, a defendant does not have counsel at his arraignment, the court will inform the defendant that he has a right to court-appointed counsel if he cannot afford to retain his own. If a defendant wishes to request court-appointed counsel, he may do so during his arraignment hearing.
Entering a Plea
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At a felony arraignment, the court will inform the defendant of the substance and details of the charges against him. Typically, defendants receive a copy of an indictment or the details of the charges against him. After the court apprises a defendant of all charges, he is then asked how he would like to plead. Defendants who have not had the opportunity to consult counsel are generally encouraged to refrain from entering a guilty plea.
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Bail is set at a felony arraignment. During the hearing, defendants are allowed to ask for bail or to be released. Courts consider a number of factors in determining how to set bail or whether to release the defendant pending his trial. If the defendant poses a flight risk or if the crime for which the defendant is being charged was violent in nature, a court might remand the defendant to custody. If the court is convinced that remand is necessary, a defendant may request a bail hearing for a future date.