Arraignment: Definition & Process

Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

After you complete this lesson, you will understand the process of an arraignment, which occurs after an arrest and before a courtroom trial. Test your learning with a brief quiz when you get to the end of this lesson.


When watching legal television programs such as Law & Order, you will often see a suspect get arrested with grand fanfare. Then the show will quickly cut to the next scene: a dramatic courtroom trial. However, there is something that the show usually skips over. It is a crucial part of the criminal justice process that is necessary in all cases. It is the arraignment.

After one has been arrested, an arraignment will occur. Usually, the arraignment will happen within 48-72 hours of the arrest, but every state is different. An arraignment hearing is a legal procedure where a judge reads formal criminal charges against an accused individual. In addition, the accused will enter a plea, which is usually a statement of 'guilty' or 'not guilty.' Frequently, the arraignment will also include a determination by the judge as to whether or not to grant bail, which will be discussed in the next section.

Arraignment Process

Charges and Plea

During an arraignment, the accused person will appear before the judge. The judge will question the accused to ensure that his name and address are correct. Then the judge will ask if he has an attorney. In the event that the accused does not have an attorney, one is appointed.

Next, there is a reading of the formal charges against the accused. This can take a long time, as the formal statutory language is used. Therefore, the accused may ask to waive this formal reading. If so, the judge will nevertheless describe the charges to the accused, but in plain language so the accused can understand the charges. This will also save time. Then, the judge will advise the accused of his rights in the case.

The judge will then ask the accused to enter a plea into the record. This typically means that the accused will state whether he will plead guilty or not guilty to the crime he is charged with committing. Sometimes, the arraignment is broken into two stages, in which the accused hears his charges in an initial arraignment and then enters a plea in a second post-indictment arraignment.

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