DEFINITION of 'Arraignment'

Arraignment is a court proceeding in which the defendant is read the charges in the indictment, and is asked to enter a plea. The arraignment occurs after the defendant is arrested and formal charges are levied.

BREAKING DOWN 'Arraignment'

Court cases typically move through a series of stages before being considered closed. In civil cases, the first stage has the plaintiff file a complaint with the court outlining the plaintiff’s claims. The defendant then receives a copy of the complaint and a notice to appear in court. At this point, the plaintiff and defendant are given the opportunity to settle the case privately or use an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism rather than go to trial. The courts may also provide a summary judgment. If the case goes to trial, the judge will ultimately levy a verdict, and either parties to the suit may choose to appeal the court’s decision.

Criminal cases follow a different series of stages. Criminal cases begin with an indictment, which is a formal notice of charges. The defendant is then charged and arrested. The defendant is brought before a judge and informed of the charges, referred to as the arraignment. Typically, the defendant attends the arraignment in person, but in cases in which the punishment would be a fine or imprisonment for less than a year the defendant does not have to be present.

In the United States, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure requires an arraignment to occur in open court, where the defendant is provided a copy of the indictment, is read the indictment, and is asked to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. Arraignments occur fairly quickly once a defendant is arrested. A defendant will typically remain in custody before arraignment for 48 to 72 hours, though the amount of time may vary between state and federal courts. The U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment grants defendants the opportunity to be, “informed of the nature and cause of the accusation”. It does not, however, require the defendant to be informed during the arraignment stage.

The arraignment also offers the defendant the opportunity to ask for bail. The judge may allow the defendant to be released on bail until the trial begins. Before bail is granted, the judge reviews the defendant’s background, including the defendant’s criminal record, to determine if the defendant will pose a significant risk if released. If the defendant is denied bail or if the defendant cannot post bail, he or she is kept in custody.

In 2011, the United States filed criminal charges against Rajat Gupta, a managing director at management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. The charges were related to an earlier civil case filed by the SEC concerning insider trading activities. In the civil case, he was found to have provided insider information to his friend and hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam. During the arraignment, Gupta plead not guilty to the charges, and was granted bail. Bail was set at $10 million. The trial began May 2012, and the jury found him guilty in June 2012. 

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