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What is Criminal Arraignment? Plus Common Questions

June 25, 2020 Federal Criminal Attorneys

People who have been arrested under federal charges usually go through the federal arraignment process. After arrest or a federal indictment, you will be brought before a judge who will explain your rights and make sure that you understand the charges against you.

You have the right to an attorney if you can’t afford one, but you have to fill out a financial form to qualify. The judge will appoint an Assistant Federal Defender or a member of the Criminal Justice Act panel to handle your case and shepherd you through the arraignment and subsequent judicial processes. [1]

The Federal Arraignment Process

In most cases, federal arraignment only happens after a number of significant events. These include a federal investigation, grand jury hearing, an indictment, an arrest and an appearance before the judge to hear the complaint and explanation of legal rights under the law. Minor cases might involve simple complaints, but felony charges carry serious penalties in federal cases and require an indictment by a grand jury. [2]

Arraignments are the defendant’s first formal court appearance where the charges are read aloud to the court. The defendant is asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The steps of the arraignment include:

  • Hear the charges against you.
  • Enter your plea.
  • Petition for bail.

The court will also schedule dates for your trial and arguing pretrial motions. If bail is granted, you can use personal assets to cover the amount or pay a bail bondsman 10 percent of the amount. Otherwise, you must remain incarcerated during all the stages of the federal trial process. During the arraignment, the prosecution may offer a plea bargain.

Stages of a Federal Prosecution and Trial

The stages of the federal trial process are often more complex than state trials. Each state has its own court system and rules for criminal cases. Magistrates often hear preliminary matters like pretrial motions. The long process of a federal criminal investigation and trial include: [3]

The grand jury indictment process can occur before or after arrest. You are usually informed by mail if you’ve been indicted by a grand jury, and arrest often follows.

Common Questions About Federal Arraignments

Q. What is a federal indictment?

A. A federal indictment formally accuses one or more defendants in a criminal matter. Indictments are usually required for federal cases, but some cases rely on a complaint or information uncovered by federal investigators.

Q. What is the difference between federal and state charges?

A. The federal government operates under federal laws, but each state has its own laws. You can be prosecuted for a crime in both federal and state courts because the laws may overlap. The sentences of guilty defendants often run concurrently, but there are plenty of exceptions where a defendant has to serve both sentences. Sometimes, a decision is made to prosecute in only one court, usually the one that offers stiffer penalties for the crime.

Q. Does the United States Attorneys’ Offices provide legal assistance?

A. U.S. Attorneys only represent the interests of the government in legal matters. Federal judges will explain your legal rights, trial procedures and the complaint against you, but they can offer no legal assistance except appointing an attorney if you can’t afford one.

Q. How are federal courts organized?

A. District courts are where you are arraigned and have your preliminary and regular trials. There are 89 federal districts spread among the 50 states, and five additional districts serving the U.S. territories of the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. The court of appeals divides the districts among 13 judicial courts. The First Circuit has six judgeships, and the Ninth Circuit has 29 judgeships. Circuit courts handle the appeals of district cases.

References:

[1] https://waw.fd.org/resources/client-family-resources/arrest-arraignment

[2] https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/federal-arraignment-process-36402#:~:text=Defining%20Arraignment,conducted%20by%20a%20federal%20magistrate.

[3] https://www.justice.gov/usao/justice-101/steps-federal-criminal-process

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