A typical arraignment consists of some or all of the following:
- The suspect—now called the defendant —is given a written accusation prepared by the prosecutor’s office.
- The defendant is allowed to apply for court-appointed counsel.
- The defendant responds to the written charges, usually orally and almost always with a “not-guilty” plea.
- The judge sets a tentative schedule for later courtroom proceedings such as a pretrial conference, a preliminary hearing, a hearing on pretrial motions, and the trial itself.
- The judge decides unresolved bail issues (bail may be set, raised, or lowered, or the defendant may be released on his own recognisance ("O.R.").
When Arraignments Take Place
Arraignments are usually held within 48 hours of a suspect’s arrest (excluding weekends and holidays) if the suspect is in jail. If the suspect has bailed out or was issued a citation, the arraignment typically occurs several weeks later. The exact timing of arraignments varies from one locality to another. For example, Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 14.1 requires that an arraignment be held within ten days after charges are filed; California law does not specify a time requirement.
The requirement that a suspect be arraigned shortly after arrest is intended to protect the suspect. A quick arraignment before a judge means that suspects can’t be required to languish in jail while the police rummage around for enough evidence of criminal activity to support a charge. All states must adhere to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that an arraignment should take place “as quickly as possible” after arrest (Mallory v. U.S., U.S. Sup. Ct. 1957).
Posting Bail and the Timing of Your Arraignment
By bailing out, a suspect can count on the arraignment being delayed for at least two weeks. The delay is rarely of legal consequence, because speedy arraignments are intended primarily to benefit jailed suspects. However, in an unusual case, a bailed-out suspect might still ask the judge to dismiss charges because of a delayed arraignment. To be successful, the suspect would have to demonstrate that the delay was extraordinary, that it was not the suspect’s fault, and that it ruined the suspect’s opportunity to present an effective defense (perhaps because it allowed a crucial defense witness to flee the country).