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What is an Arraignment?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

An arraignment is the formal reading of charges against a person. Usually if the arraignment is short although it may be combined with a hearing on bail if the crime is a serious felony. This is also the opportunity for someone charged with a crime to enter a plea. In the US there are usually three possible pleas: not guilty, guilty, no contest.

A final plea called the Alford law can be entered in criminal cases. In these cases, the person being charged does not admit to the crime, but does acknowledge significant evidence that could allow a jury or judge to conclude that the person accused has committed a crime. The Alford law may result in the case being continued, or may result in a direct sentence of guilty.

An arraignment involves formal charges.
An arraignment involves formal charges.

After the plea is entered, the next job of the arraignment is to determine dates for trial. In some cases, a plea of guilty may result in the judge pronouncing sentence immediately. If the crime is minor, such as a traffic ticket, those accused may merely pay a fee and leave. Sometimes one can circumvent an arraignment for minor traffic offenses by paying a fee before the arraignment. In these cases, the payment of the fee is enough and the person accused does not have to appear at the arraignment. This varies from state to state, and one should verify with the courts whether paying a fine exempts one from attending an arraignment.

Those charged with minor traffic violations might be able to circumvent the arraignment by paying a fee early.
Those charged with minor traffic violations might be able to circumvent the arraignment by paying a fee early.

Failure to attend an arraignment when required can result in more criminal charges, fines, and an immediate arrest warrant being issued. In almost all cases, one must appear at an arraignment to avoid such. Usually, those charged with a crime that are not held in jail are given a date and time to attend their arraignments.

If someone is being held in jail, without specific charges, he or she must be arraigned within 24-48 hours of the arrest. At an arraignment of this type, the prosecutor must produce enough evidence to demonstrate probable cause for a charge. If no charge can be made, the person being held in jail is not charged, and is released.

Bail money is returned, provided the accused attends his or her court proceedings.
Bail money is returned, provided the accused attends his or her court proceedings.

Those being held in jail for a specific charge usually also quickly attend an arraignment to be formally charged. If a bail hearing follows, those accused may either be released on their own recognizance, have a bail amount assigned for leaving jail, or may not be allowed to leave jail. Where the crime is of a serious nature, and flight risk is possible, leaving jail may not be allowed. Release or a determination of bail is at the discretion of the judge.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent WiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent WiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments


What if you where charged with a robbery, but in the victim's statement the victim says they don't want to file charges, but the police file charges anyway? Are they allowed to do this if the victim doesn't want to press charges?


They said I spit on a firefighter while in the hospital, tied up to the bed. I just lost my mom, and I don't remember one thing! They sent me to a psych ward for a week, I got good counseling and was let go. Now I'm back with my family, and about eight months later I get arrested for this. My arraignment is next week. My bail was $1,500 and I paid $150 to get out four hours later. I don't remember one thing from this I wasn't on drugs. I drank and took sleeping pills. I thought when somebody got hurt or needed help, they are supposed to do it at all costs. They're not supposed to turn around and say I spit on them. Even the police said he didn't even know. I was gone and everything went black! I can't even believe this is happening. I have a nice family and a home.

I only had one fight 18 years ago and the charges were dropped. What is the smartest route?


I am in California, in Placer County. A search warrant was served on my home, for possible mail fraud. I was forwarding USPS mail to foreign countries for a Russian theft ring. I did not know they were stealing these items. The SO's totally believed me because I was totally telling the truth, which was a great start, but all of that is not even my problem.

While the SO was searching my home (shared with two other people) they happened upon a box of five or six mason jars. Each jar had a relatively small amount of marijuana (samples). They never asked whose marijuana it belonged to and they took the dope without entering it onto the inventory sheet. But all of that is not even my problem.

The officers then happened upon a small can of chips. In this can were small baggies and a minute amount of meth. My guess would be it was less than .40 of a gram.

Not knowing whose it was and not wanting to get anyone else in trouble, I said it was my dope (even though I don't do it). This they entered onto the inventory sheet, but not the weight (no scale, I guess).

During the search inside, a cop was questioning a friend of one of my roommates, outside who happened to be at the house when they came. This cop found marijuana on said friend and some meth (both were large quantities). The marijuana the cop gave back to said friend and the meth the cop kept (to be used to add weight to some other poor unsuspecting soul?) Neither the marijuana nor the meth were logged onto the inventory sheet.

At the conclusion of their raid, I was made to sign a Promise To Appear (PAT) with a date and place (Superior Court of Placer) and time. The date and time came and I forgot until that afternoon. I called the courthouse and was informed that my appearance was not scheduled, so had I remembered to go I would have sat in court for nothing! I was told to call the DA's office. The DA's office said there was nothing currently scheduled, but that if they decided to press charges later, they would let me know. Huh?

So, I forgot about it until two weeks ago, when I got a summons to appear before a Judge for an arraignment. I appeared and watched as tons of people were told their case was being dropped 'for lack of evidence'. Then it was my turn to go before the judge and said judge asked me if I wanted a Public Defender and then started in telling me that there was a drug diversion program that could be arranged for me. All the while. a PD is talking to me, talking over the judge, so I only caught the last part of the drug diversion speech.

That caught my attention!! My head snapped up and I said, 'Wait a Minute. What are you talking about? I have not even entered a plea. A plea of not guilty.' Then someone somewhere said, "Oh, don't worry, we'll get to that."

Well, they never did 'get to that' and I walked out of there with a new court date and a map to the PD's office in Auburn. Now, that's my problem! Why wasn't I allowed to enter a plea?

Oh by the way, I have a recording of the proceedings. Any assistance will be greatly appreciated!


I was arrested for credit card fraud and I have court coming up. This is my first arrest. I'm scared about what I do and what can I expect?


If I plead guilty to murder and was sentence to 22 years, can I go back and change my plea?


I am looking at a possession of paraphernalia and failure to signal lane change. At the scene, my friends failed to admit to the possession of their marijuana until after being handcuffed, which is a no-no to cops. So I was hauled in as well.

My citation reads some random name at the bottom where the signature is and it even states consent for the search, which was clearly a probable cause because the cop straight up opened the doors and made the passengers get out.

I am from Indiana and currently do not have a Texas driver's license. I called the court and they said if I did have a Texas license then I would be able to do diversion where I would be on "a driving probation" where if I got no tickets in 90 days then everything would come off my record. Well since I don't have a Texas driver's license, what can I expect the DA to give me?

I am currently graduating nine days after my scheduled court hearing. Could i possibly use my clean past and current standings as a plea? Never been in this position before, so someone with experience in this sector please help me out. Thanks!


Well they found some bags of marijuana in an old gun that my grandmother gave to me many years ago but they are trying to charge him with it plus attempt to sell.

I told them that it was a mistake, that he has never been in trouble before and doesn't have a criminal record, but he was arrested on a friday and the judge set a bond for 25,000 with no 10 percent but he has a arraignment coming up on the 4th. What will happen? Can they charge him with that gun? I need help. he is a good man just made a wrong decision.


My mother (86 years old and doctor certified unable to handle her finances) has been sued for payment of a credit card debt.

I have been taking care of her bills for three years and she has never received a statement from a credit card company and I was not aware she ever had one. She has lived in assisted living for 10 years.

I disputed it for her by registered certified letter to the lawyer and the court clerks office. They told me I had done what was needed to be done and just wait for the arraignment. What is that and why does she have to mess with it before they (the plaintiff) tell her what it is for and what it was used for and when?

She is being sued by a debt collection company and not the actual credit card company so I don't know even what company they are talking about. Does anyone understand more about this type of thing?


my daughter went in on a vop in September for missing two drug classes. she would go sign in then leave, not paying. the vop arraignment is in early November. will she get out that day? i want to speak at her arraignment. i don't want her out right now. i want her in a drug rehab place. Will they listen?


is there a limit on the time one can be arraigned following an arrest and posting bail? and can charges be dropped if an extensive amount of time has passed?


Once again amypollick thanks for the good advice. I know I should just let this lawyer handle everything in due time. It's just that I have never been through anything like this before in my life. Not even a slap on the wrist ever. So I think the anxiety is getting to me.

I have rented a room in a undisclosed location until this is all over. My lawyer said to not to talk to anyone about anything lol. So I guess this is this last time you will hear from me until it's all over. Hope I return soon with good news for you. Take care of yourself and God bless you!


@ScaredinCali: I am not a lawyer, so I don't know for sure what would be the best thing. The press couldn't help you much in this situation, in any event. You might want to call the detective and tell him the guy is in your house, and you don't know what to do. But I'm just not sure.

Can you find the lawyer you have on retainer? If so, call him and ask his advice. Even if he can't get the paperwork until Monday, he can still tell you the best thing to do, and at least one reliable person will know the dude has attempted to do this.

Don't talk to the dude if you can avoid it. If you can't avoid it, tell him you can't promise him anything because you're not the DA. Just be a broken record and if he backs out on dropping the charges, then you're no worse off than you were before, and you still have a lawyer.

These things do take time, and it could be that when your lawyer sees the police paperwork, talks to you, etc., that he can talk to the DA and tell him the plaintiff-to-be is full of crap and it would be in his best interests to drop the charges and quietly go away. A DA really doesn't want to move forward with a case unless there's a win in it for him/her, and so might be amenable to this.

In any event, can you believe any judge and/or jury is going to believe a scuzzwad, low-life like this dude, who has a track record of assaulting the police, domestic violence, etc., over a veteran of the Iraq war, wounded, honorably discharged, etc.? Not hardly. And if your lawyer is worth his retainer, he's going to trot out every criminal charge in dude's record, in order to damage his credibility. And it will probably work, particularly if you don't have any kind of criminal record.

I don't think creeptoad has the cojones to see this through, anyway. People are full of spit and vinegar when they're boozed up. When the hangover wears off, however, things do tend to become clearer, even for complete idiots.

Don't talk to the creep, lay low, take care of your kids and stay in touch with your lawyer. That's the best I can offer, for what it's worth.

You have my prayers and good wishes that this all turns out in your favor in spectacular fashion.


OK now the "victim" wants to tell the truth and drop the charges. The DA has not seen the case yet nor have any formal charges been brought up. There has been no arraignment either. But, if he will face perjury charges or any legal action against himself he will not tell the truth -- leaving me to face the charges and possibly sending a innocent man to jail.

I have been ordered not to talk to him and he has been told not to talk to me now, either. The detective was worried this would happen. Now what do I do?

I need more advice than just going to the press. My new lawyer was retained today, but said he cannot get to the paper work (police report) until Monday. This "victim" is in my house wanting to do it now, and I cannot get a hold of any lawyer anywhere.


Thanks amypollick. I just received a phone call from my grandfather who gave a lawyer 18,000 to come here and fight my case. They are using private investigators and all, and I have been told not to talk to anyone.

I do like the idea of putting the DA in the spotlight with this, though. You're right -- it would be a good story. I would read it. Thanks again and god bless all of you here, and I hope all goes well for you!


@ScaredinCali: Call the newspaper or television station. Get all your documents together and also get permission from your friends who will speak for you to be contacted by the media. If the media puts some heat on the DA, he or she may decide to drop the charges altogether, or at least offer you probation and a suspended sentence, or something of the kind.

Take photos with you of you in uniform and of your son. Use the disabled veteran with a child card and play it to the hilt. This is the kind of story that sells papers/attracts viewers.

Call and ask to speak with the reporter who covers criminal matters. Don't just show up at the office. Make an appointment and come dressed nicely. Believe me: these things go a long way towards establishing your credibility. You do not want to come across as a nut.

All things being equal, this has the potential to be a really good story. I work in the media -- I know.

Good luck and I hope you're able to get some justice in this situation.


I was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, and criminal threats. It was against my little sister's 21 year old boyfriend. Three weeks ago I came back form vacation to find out that he had gotten drunk and choked her. Naturally, I wanted to hurt him, but I didn't and she wanted to stay with him.

This past Friday, she had a few friends over including him. He got into a fight in my kitchen with another house guest that turned into a short boxing match. I ran downstairs to separate them. When I showed up and split them apart he turned and literally ran over my sister who is six months pregnant with his child. She crashed to the floor in pain.

He then went upstairs outside of my bedroom door where my son (four years old) and I had been prior to the fight. My son was asleep on my bed with the door open. As we all went upstairs he began to threaten the lives of the people in the house, including me and my son. I reached into a hiding spot and grabbed a 16-gauge shot gun and put it right in his face. I was terrified at this time for myself and my child. I was going to force him out of the house and call the cops. While I had my weapon drawn he was lunging towards me saying, "Come on! Come on! Do it! Come on (expletive deleted)!" Everyone rushed him and separated us immediately and the situation was defused. He was made to leave and calm down.

While he was walking around outside he called the police and told them "his" side of the story. Within a hour or so (I was asleep and lying next to my son), they busted into my house and took me out to the patrol car in handcuffs. He to was in the car next to me in cuffs.

They questioned my sister who at this time told them the truth about what happened. They arrested him for battery. When they closed the cop door on him he broke out the window trying to re-open the door (obviously not an easygoing, non-aggressive person). So he now faced charges for the window.

They came to me asked me where the shotgun was and I told them. I also signed a waiver to allow them to search my house. Nothing was found except my shotgun. I was taken into custody that night under the charge of Terrorist Threats PC 422. Also, I was never read my rights until the day I bonded out.

I find out that they dropped all charges against him besides the window, and released him on a misdemeanor charge. They are now trying to get me to accept three to five years in the federal prison. I am trying to fight this case on my own, seeing as I have not the $15,000 retainer for a lawyer. The public defender just wants me to take the deal (as we all know they don't give a crap about you).

I bonded out two days ago with no arraignment and have the first court date in a month's time. I have never been into any trouble before in my life of any kind. There are many more shady details to this, but I'm sure you can see how they are trying to screw me over with what I have already said.

They dropped his case but asked him to testify against me in court if it goes to that point. I have witnesses from that night who will testify on my behalf that he did issue threats and because of his past anger issues while drinking, it could have been seen as an immediate threat to the safety and well being of those in the house (ie. my son, myself, etc..)

What do I do? I am a single father, a disabled veteran from the Iraqi war, and a full time college student. My funds are very limited. If I go to jail I will lose my son and the opportunity to have a good future. I am at a loss.


My boyfriend has a charge of carrying a concealed weapon from 2009 and he was put on probation. last month he violated it and he is now in jail. how long would he be in there for violating probation?


I was arrested recently for a PC 484 and an outstanding warrant I wasn't aware of or notified in any way to let me know that I had a warrant for my arrest, and paid bail. I have an arraignment coming up. What should I expect?


My son was locked up for diving without a license. they gave him a d class felony. what could happen to him?


my brother has two prior felonies and now just got caught a third time for the same thing. he is being arraigned today, and his bond is 100,000 cash.

If he pleads not guilty, how long does he have to stay in jail? He will have a lawyer appointed, I'm sure. Also, can I find out about his arraignment as to how he pleaded?


Keeping a non-violent man away from his spouse and children for months at a time does more damage than good in the long run. Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt. -Julie123


My stepson was 19 at the time, lied to the police and said I intentionally jumped on him. The police arrested me, they said, "Because he looked worse than I did." I told my son, I need to use the computer, He said, "No, you're just going to have to wait." I said, "why do you keep talking to me that way?" and I got between him and the computer. He immediately started swinging, hitting and scratching me in the face and chest. The last straw was when he hit me in the eye. The only thing I felt I could do was to hit him. I have an arraignment soon. How can I prove I was defending myself? The only thing I think of is to attack his character towards me in the past.


A lot of times people call the police to mediate an argument like who's on whose side to win a fight, Then they find out afterward someone goes to jail. Never call the cops unless it is life threatening! Me and my wife went through this about five years ago things are much better now we learned. we still argue occasionally but we have decided don't call the cops over petty stuff we can work out. The cops are not going to try to help you work it out or mediate with your spouse. when they come someone goes to jail and it gets expensive.


No such thing as a mistake when a man hits a woman. He belongs in jail.


maria1978: Do not know what state you are in but the state attorney doesn't take it lightly if you want to drop charges. In some states they can come back on you if you change your story. Be careful.

You are just engaged; if he hit you now, heaven knows what he will do to you when you are married! Take his actions toward you as a *big* flag/fair warning and run as fast as you can!


in the state of florida, an accused person that has been arrested for a crime spends an average of 23 days in jail before their arraignment. is this practice legal?


Let him rot in jail. Don't help him get out. He *hit* you.


My fiancee lost his job and he was having trouble finding one. we got into an argument where he went completely out of it and punched me in the chest. well I pressed charges. how can I help him to get out of that since it was just a mistake?


Do you need to have a lawyer present, or is it recommended, for an arraignment for a

DWI if you are pleading not guilty?



Where do you get your numbers of how many days an accused person spends in jail before arraignment in FL.?

Anyhow I personally know someone was was arrested on 4/28, ROR on 4/29. Violated the no contact order on 4/29 which was reported. A notice of the violation was written on 4/30 by the pre-trial counselor. 5/18 arrested again for violation of no contact order & as well as witness/victim tampering. 5/19 given $50,000.00 bond & posted it on 5/21. Since a written plea of not guilty has to be done prior to arraignment (10 days?) & one was just done on 6/2 it has far exceeded your 23 day mark. Even if you are talking about someone who was given a bond & couldn't post it my example in FL. shows way longer than 23 days.


If someone is arrested for simple battery and the police report states they admitted "they grabbed the victim because they were mad at her". Why, several months later after hiring an attorney, write a notice of not guilty?

Does their pleaing not guilty nullify their admission to the police?


What is a petition?


When a person is arrested for back child support with no means of paying while in jail, is the person likely to be released at an arraignment if there is documentation of a medical problem that has kept him from working?


Do you need a lawyer for an arraignment for a dui charge when you plan to plead not guilty?

Mississippi resident


I have been going to court for over a year. I have yet to be arraigned. I spent the first two weeks in custody. What should I do?


What will happen if the accused fails to attend the arraignment because he or she has left for abroad?


in the state of florida, an accused person that has been arrested for a crime spends an average of 23 days in jail before their arraignment. is this practice legal??


Do you need a lawyer at the arraignment. Can you change your plea at the time of the hearing?

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    • An arraignment involves formal charges.
      By: Dmytro Smaglov
      An arraignment involves formal charges.
    • Those charged with minor traffic violations might be able to circumvent the arraignment by paying a fee early.
      By: Food photo
      Those charged with minor traffic violations might be able to circumvent the arraignment by paying a fee early.
    • Bail money is returned, provided the accused attends his or her court proceedings.
      By: diter
      Bail money is returned, provided the accused attends his or her court proceedings.
    • Those jailed without charges must be arraigned within 24-48 hours.
      By: andreykr
      Those jailed without charges must be arraigned within 24-48 hours.