Purpose Of Arraignment
As stated above, although sometimes combined, arraignments serve a purpose distinguishable from that of initial appearances, Gerstein proceedings, bail proceedings, and preliminary examination hearings. At arraignment, the court formally informs a defendant of charges contained in an indictment or information, provides the defendant with a copy of the charging instrument, and takes the defendant's answer to those charges in the form of a plea. In open court, and outside the presence of a jury, the judicial officer reads or relays the substance of the indictment or information to the accused and requests that the accused enter a plea to the charge or charges. For this to occur, defendants must generally appear in person at the arraignment, and challenges to procedures permitting arraignments to occur via video teleconferencing have been heard by the courts. These challenges generally fail, however, if the defendant and counsel were able to see and hear the activities transpiring in the courtroom and the judge conducting the arraignment was able to see and hear the defendant throughout the proceeding.
As the foregoing description of the proceeding suggests, an arraignment is a largely formal procedure that, unlike other pretrial proceedings, takes little time to complete (if unaccompanied by an extended plea colloquy). The arraignment is nonetheless a critical juncture in the criminal process for many reasons. First, speedy trial obligations are often triggered on the date of arraignment. Second, should an accused flee after being arraigned, the prosecutor may choose to proceed in abstentia (i.e., proceed to trial in the defendant's absence). Third, from the point of arraignment, right to counsel is clear and failure to appoint counsel for an indigent defendant asked to enter a plea will bar valid conviction in the absence of a knowing and intelligent waiver ( Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458 (1938) and Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963)). (The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment makes the Sixth Amendment's guaranty of counsel applicable to states.) Finally, after arraignment on an indictment or information, the charging instrument normally may not be materially altered absent rearraignment on the new or amended charge.
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