Arraignment

Blacks Law Dictionary defines arraignments as, “To bring [the defendant] to the bar of the court to answer the matter charged upon him in the indictment. The arraignment… consists of calling upon him by name, and reading to him the indictment, and deCourt Roommanding of him whether he be guilty or not guilty, and entering his plea” (Black’s Law Dictionary). A second definition claims, “A court appearance in which the defendant is formally charged with a crime and asked to respond by entering a plea” (Nolo’s Law Dictionary). A subcategory of arraignment is video arraignment.  “Video arraignment is the act of conducting the arraignment process using some form of videoconferencing technology.” With a video arraignment, the same procedures of any other arraignment are observed, but the person being charged participates remotely rather than physically. In much the same way that geographically divided families and international friendships survive via Skype, the spirit of Rule 10 and Rule 43 may be preserved when an arraignment is administered over a reliable teleconferencing system. In a standard dictionary arraignment is characterized as,  “A reading of a criminal complaint in the presence of the defendant.” A fixture of criminal law, the arraignment’s purpose is to inform the accused of precisely what he is being charged with so that he might plead guilty, innocent, no contest, or with an Alford plea at the preliminary hearing.

Example Sentence

The initial arraignment informs the defendant of the charges against her, her choices in responding to the charges, and all legal safeguards that she is entitled to. Because John waived his right to appear in court in person, he was read his charges and offered a plea via video arraignment, instead.

Case Study

Because John had successfully escaped three times during prisoner transports, the court opted for his arraignment to be via video conference for security purposes. Often, the settlement of traffic infraction tickets will not go beyond the initial arraignment. A plea of guilt or no-contest will usually result in a fine or some corrective action without the scheduling of any more court dates. However, a plea of innocence means a trial. If John has simply been pulled over for rolling through a stop sign, and it was caught on police camera, it is far simpler for him to pay a fine. However, James, involved in a pileup has an interest in defending his innocence, since he may be prohibited from seeking damages if he carries the blame for the accident or is even held partially at fault for other people’s damages.

Other Important Information

Currently, the constitutionality of a video arraignment is still a moot point (although Utah law allows it). Felony arraignments may require the physical presence of an accused. The monetary savings and safety advantages notwithstanding, some say that the gravity and solemnity of an arraignment are compromised when it is held outside a courtroom. In whatever manner an arraignment is conducted, the accused is informed of the charges and their rights to representation and given an opportunity to enter a plea. Arraignments are mandated by the 6th Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which reads that the accused has the right “to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation [and] to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” While a trial may seem like more trouble than it’s worth, it’s an ordeal that should be undertaken by someone who a) feels he has been charged unjustly, and b) needs to file an insurance claim for damages sustained in the accident in question. Since winning sufficient personal injury compensation depends on proving negligence, disproving false or inflated accusations is a gateway issue. Missing an initial arraignment can lead to a fine or even arrest.

Image “Courtroom” copyright by Clyde Robinson.

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