What Happens at a Felony Arraignment Hearing: Overview
A felony arraignment hearing is a court proceeding and a significant aspect of criminal procedure. Felony arraignments are one of the first steps in the process of being formally charged with a felony. These hearings function to apprise defendants of their constitutional rights, particularly the 6th Amendment right to be informed of the crime for which a defendant is being accused. During a felony arraignment, a defendant typically comes into contact with the attorney who will be prosecuting the case against him for the first time.
Felony Arraignment vs. Preliminary Hearing
Arraignments differ from preliminary hearings. Preliminary hearings are much like grand jury proceedings. During preliminary hearings, judges determine whether sufficient evidence exists for a defendant to stand trial. Defendants may waive preliminary hearings, meaning they are not required to be present. Arraignments differ from preliminary hearings in that the determination as to whether enough probable cause exists to charge a defendant has already been established. Additionally, a defendant's presence is typically required at a felony arraignment. Federal courts require all defendants to be present at felony arraignments. However, state courts may relax the rules, depending on the jurisdiction.
Informed of Rights
During a felony arraignment, a defendant is informed of his constitutional rights. If a defendant has not obtained counsel by the time of his arraignment, he will be informed of his 6th Amendment right to counsel. If for some reason, a defendant does not have counsel at his arraignment, the court will inform the defendant that he has a right to court-appointed counsel if he cannot afford to retain his own. If a defendant wishes to request court-appointed counsel, he may do so during his arraignment hearing.
Entering a Plea
At a felony arraignment, a defendant is informed of the charges against him, including the substance and details of the charges. Typically, a defendant is given a copy of an indictment and/or the details of all charges against him. After the court apprises a defendant of all charges, he is then asked how he would like to plead. Defendants who have not had the opportunity to consult counsel are generally encouraged to refrain from entering a guilty plea.
Bail is set at a felony arraignment. During the hearing, defendants are allowed to ask for bail or to be released. Courts consider a number of factors in determining how to set bail or whether to release the defendant pending his trial. If the defendant has strong ties to his community and a family, he may be given a lower bail amount. If the defendant poses a flight risk or if the crime for which the defendant is being charged was violent in nature, a court might remand the defendant to custody, meaning the defendant goes straight to jail.
If the court is convinced that remand is necessary, a defendant may request a bail hearing to be held on for a future date. During a bail hearing, a judge reconsiders setting bail based on the arguments presented.