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An arraignment is a legal proceeding held in court which guarantees a defendant who has been arrested for a criminal action the right to be advised of the cause and nature of any and all charges that are pending against them, established under the rights of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

A state arraignment is a scheduled court hearing which must take place within a reasonable timeframe. In state arraignments this timeframe is typically within twenty-four hours after an arrest. In many cases this judicious period of time can be delayed by weekends, and Holidays. However, an unreasonable delay can violate the accused's constitutional right to a speedy trial. If a criminal Information, Indictment, or Complaint is delivered and the court or office of the prosecutor doesn't set the arraignment date within an accepted reasonable timeframe, the defendant's counsel can file a motion to dismiss due to the delay. The conditions of the delay must then be reviewed by the judge and he would then make a determination whether the delay was warranted or unreasonable.

During an arraignment, an individual who is accused of a crime will be formally instructed of all charges against them regarding their arrest and all charges to be brought forth. The accused will then be requested to enter their plea to the charges against them. This is known as the defendant's answer to the charges.

In the State of Florida, the defendant may not have to personally appear as long as the plea to officially be entered is not guilty, and his attorney has filed a written waiver signed by both themself and the defendant. Counsel must also demonstrate that his client has waived appearance and has received a copy of the Indictment or Information after the accused has been formally charged by such documentation. However, it is at the discretion of the court whether to accept the waiver and to decide if proceedings are to move forward.

A federal arraignment takes place in two segments and judges require that the defendant be present.

The first stage is referred to as the initial arraignment. As opposed to the twenty-four hour rule that is required in state arraignments, this step is specified to allow forty-eight hours after the individual's arrest for the arraignment to be scheduled. During this first phase, as in a state arraignment, the defendant will be informed of pending charges against them. In most cases, the formal reading of the indictment is waived. In both state and federal arraignments defendants will first be notified of their rights, including their right to seek out and retain legal counsel if an advocate has not yet been retained on their behalf. This is done at this point of a federal arraignment. Following the statement of rights, the judge will make a decision for the amount of bail to be set, if any, and may also decide whether the defendant will be released pending trial.

The second stage of a federal arraignment is known as the post-indictment arraignment. During this process the defendant is permitted to enter their official plea. The defendant has the option of pleading guilty, not guilty, no contest (nolo contendere), or to an Alford plea. This procedure is done in both state and federal arraignments. Usually, a defense attorney will have his client plead not guilty. This can always be changed at a later time if a plea agreement can't be reached.

An Alford plea is basically the same as a guilty plea with the difference being that the defendant, in providing their plea, doesn't admit to the charges against them and declares they're innocence while unable or unwilling to admit guilt. However, under an Alford plea, the defendant believes and that sufficient evidence most likely is available for the prosecution to introduce that could likely convince a jury or judge of delivering a finding of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for the crime committed. Florida's Supreme Court has held that "a judgment of guilt entered upon an Alford plea is conclusive proof of guilt of the criminal offense charged". Under this plea, the defendant will be pronounced guilty by the court. They may now plead guilty without admitting all of the facts that encompass the crime. Examples of why this plea may be used might be a circumstance where the defendant does not have any recollection of the relevant events due to a supposed case of temporary or complete amnesia or a reduced capacity due to drugs and/or alcohol usage when the crime was committed.  Using this type of plea might also be a defense strategy to sidestep being convicted of a charge that is more serious.
Acceptance of an Alford plea is within the court's discretion.

A federal or state judge may accept a no contest plea to avoid an "expensive and time-consuming trial." In a situation when a defendant pleads no contest, he is acknowledging that the prosecution most likely has sufficient evidence to prove his guilt in the crime committed but does not technically admit culpability. When this plea is entered at arraignment, the court will progress in the same way it would if the defendant pleaded guilty. In Florida, a 2005 Supreme Court decision held that "a no-contest conviction may be treated as previous convictions for the purposes of future sentencing."

When a guilty plea is entered at arraignment, the prosecutor and the defense may negotiate the matter and decide on an appropriate sentence before the arraignment concludes. Sentencing could then be completed or a future date for sentencing could be established.

A plea of not guilty basically means that the defendant is willing to go to trial to put the burden of proof on the state or government in order to force them to prove the charges against them.

If you have been arrested and have been given a notice of arraignment, it is of the utmost importance to contact an attorney immediately. An experienced attorney will be able to provide information about the arraignment process and discuss your options whether the charges are indicated by the State of Florida or the federal government. Representation by an attorney at arraignment can diminish the anxiety of the process and ultimately may make a difference on the conditions of release imposed by the court.

Michael B. Cohen, Esq. is a board certified criminal trial attorney with over 35 years of experience who can be trusted to effectively get the best possible results during the arraignment process. He is admitted to practice law in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit of Florida and Second Circuit in the New York Metropolitan area.

If you have been arrested and have received a notice of arraignment, contact Mr. Cohen in Fort Lauderdale  at 954.928.0059 or call his West Palm Beach location at 561.366.8200 for immediate assistance.

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