There are two primary objectives of an arraignment hearing, which is also known as an initial appearance. The first is for the judge to read the charges aloud so that the defendant and attorneys for both sides are clear about the case, and the second is for the defendant to enter a plea.
As stated in the Miranda warning, the defendant has the right to an attorney. If they cannot afford a lawyer, the court will appoint one. Having legal representation throughout the process can significantly increase the chances of a positive outcome.
During an arraignment, the defendant must enter a plea of either guilty, not guilty or no contest. Pleading not guilty signals the next step in the process is a courtroom trial. In the case of a guilty plea, a trial will follow unless the judge decides to impose a sentence immediately. A plea of no contest has the same result as a guilty plea except that the defendant doesn’t admit guilt.
Following arraignment, the court will hold a preliminary hearing to determine whether there was probable cause for the arrest. If so, bail will be either set or waived. Some defendants do not have to post bail but have to wear a tracking device on their ankle. The alternative to these two options is being held in custody until the trial date.
The arraignment usually does not take very long, and it may be over in less than an hour. Before the proceeding is over, the judge will schedule the preliminary hearing.