The primary purpose of an arraignment is to give the defendant written notice of the charged crime(s) and take the defendant's plea. In addition, the judge may do any of the following.
Appoint counsel. The judge will appoint an attorney to represent an indigent defendant if jail time is a possible outcome. Defendants who are ineligible for court-appointed counsel and need additional time to hire an attorney can ask the judge to "continue" (delay) the arraignment for a week or so.
Hear a bail motion. Whether or not they had an earlier bail hearing, defendants can ask the arraignment judge to review their bail status (for example, to reduce the bail or convert bail to O.R. release). Similarly, if bail has been posted, the prosecutor may argue that newly discovered information justifies revoking or raising the amount to assure the defendant's appearance or protect the public.
Set a date to hear pretrial motions. Defendants and their attorneys may raise legal issues at arraignment that the judge may wish to consider in the future, when both sides have had an opportunity to make and respond to motions setting forth their arguments. For example, the defendant may file a motion claiming that the case has been filed in the wrong court or that the activity in which the defendant was engaged doesn't constitute a crime.
Set dates for upcoming hearings not involving motions. Depending on a state's procedures and whether the charge involves a felony or a misdemeanor, the judge may schedule a number of upcoming hearings before other judges. For example, in one case an arraignment judge may schedule a preliminary hearing; in another, the judge may schedule a plea bargaining settlement discussion.
This article was excerpted from The Criminal Law Handbook, by Paul Bergman, J.D., and Sara J. Berman, J.D. For much more on arraignment and initial court appearances, see Arraignment: Getting to Court.