What is an arraignment? Here’s what to know

An arraignment is when a defendant formally hears the charges against him or her and enters a plea.

It is typically the next step in a criminal proceeding following an indictment being handed up by a grand jury and it is designed, in part, to ensure the defendant knows his or her rights.

In federal cases, arraignments take place in front of U.S. magistrates, who also set bonds and decide other pretrial matters. A trial woud be presided over by a U.S. District Court judge appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

When defendants are charged with violating state laws, their cases are overseen by a state court judge.

For state cases, the proceedings and rules vary by jurisdiction. But, generally speaking, the judge may read the the charges lodged against the defendant, although defense attorneys typically waive the reading. The judge — in Fulton County, initial appearances are handled by a magistrate — will apprise the defendant of his or her rights and ask that a plea be entered. Almost without exception, a not guilty plea is entered at this initial stage of the proceedings.

On the matter of bond, the judge can release the defendant on his or her own recognizance, require the defendant to post a specific amount of bail or deny bond altogether, meaning the defendant is then taken into custody to await trial.

Finally, the judge may set additional court dates, such as deadlines for pretrial motions and a trial date.

Arraignments often take place in a courtroom at the courthouse, a courtroom at the jail or virtually, but sometimes defendants may waive an in-person appearance and enter a plea in writing.

A defendant is usually fingerprinted and photographed by law enforcement officials in advance of being arraigned.