Legal Dictionary


Legal Definition of arraignment

  1. In USA criminal law, the formal appearance of an accused person to hear, and to receive a copy of, the charge against him or her, in the presence of a judge, and to then enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The arraignment is the final preparatory step before the criminal trial.

Definition of arraignment


arraignment (plural arraignments)

  1. (law) The formal charging of a defendant with an offense

Further reading

Arraignment is a formal reading of a criminal complaint in the presence of the defendant to inform the defendant of the charges against him or her. In response to arraignment, the accused is expected to enter a plea. Acceptable pleas vary among jurisdictions, but they generally include "guilty", "not guilty", and the peremptory pleas (or pleas in bar) setting out reasons why a trial cannot proceed. Pleas of "nolo contendere" (no contest) and the "Alford plea" are allowed in some circumstances.

In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, arraignment is the first of eleven stages in a criminal trial, and involves the clerk of the court reading out the indictment. The defendant is asked whether he or she pleads guilty or not guilty to each individual charge. This process is the same in Australian jurisdictions.

In the U.S. District Court, Central District of California, arraignment takes place in two stages. The first is called the initial arraignment and must take place within 24 hours of an individual's arrest. During this arraignment the defendant is informed of any pending legal charges and is informed of his or her right to retain counsel. The presiding judge will also decide whether or not to set bail, and, if so, for how much money. The second arraignment is called a post-indictment arraignment or PIA. It is during this second arraignment that a defendant will be allowed to enter a plea.

Form of the arraignment

The wording of the arriagnment varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction,[1] however, generally conforms with the following principles:

  1. The accused person (defendant) is addressed by name;
  2. The charge against the accused person is read, including the alleged date, time and place of offence; and,
  3. The accused person is asked formally how they plead.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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