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Arraignment - Nature And Consequences Of Various Pleas Entered At Arraignment

guilty defendant nolo contendere

As stated above, one of the principal reasons for arraignment is to enter the accused's plea to charges once an indictment or information has been filed. There are three pleas available to criminal defendants, guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere, although many jurisdictions will accept a nolo contendere plea only with the express permission of the court.

Although courts may accept guilty pleas at arraignment (or even before if the defendant waives the right to an arraignment), the vast majority of criminal defendants who plead guilty do so after their arraignments have taken place. If a court accepts a defendant's guilty plea at arraignment, strict procedures designed to safeguard the accused's constitutional and statutory rights must be satisfied. Extended colloquy with the accused is called for to ensure that the plea is "intelligent and voluntary" (Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S 238 (1969)). This includes, among other things, a determination that the defendant understands the nature of the pending charge or charges, as well as the consequences of entering a guilty plea and the rights lost or waived by doing so. The court accepting a guilty plea must also determine that there is a factual basis for accepting the plea.

By far, most defendants plead not guilty at arraignment, at which time different things occur, depending on the jurisdiction. In many jurisdictions, particularly in the federal system, pleas at arraignment will be taken by a magistrate judge, who will then inform the defendant of the name of the trial judge assigned to preside over the case. In some jurisdictions, arguments for and against bail might also be heard. No matter the jurisdiction, the entry of a not guilty plea will in some sense signal trial readiness, although it is common for a considerable amount of time to pass between the entry of such a plea and trial to allow the parties to comply with discovery obligations and resolve pretrial motions.

Finally, in some jurisdictions a defendant may enter a plea of nolo contendere by which a defendant asserts that he does not contest the charges. Unlike pleas of guilty or not guilty, nolo contendere pleas are not available to a defendant as a matter of right, and some jurisdictions do not allow them. Others permit such pleas only with the consent of the court and sometimes the concurrence of the prosecutor. Where permitted, a nolo contendere plea will subject a defendant to the same sentence as a guilty plea. Unlike a guilty plea, however, evidence of a nolo contendere plea is inadmissible in a subsequent civil action to prove that the defendant committed the offense to which she entered a plea. It is, however, admissible in subsequent criminal proceedings to prove perjury or false statement.

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