Arraignment is the legal term for the formal reading of the criminal complaint. All criminal cases are prosecuted in the name of the governmental authority that is enforcing criminal statutes and seeking criminal sanctions; for example: Washington vs. Crawford.
The Arraignment is the first court proceeding and the first time that the defendant appears before a Judge. If the person was arrested and held in jail, the Arraignment must occur within a designated amount of time (e.g., 36 hours). Arraignments often occur prior to the case being brought before the Grand Jury to determine if sufficient cause to move forward towards a criminal Trial. If the person is not in jail or was released on bail, a summons will be issued after the district attorney files formal charges. An arraignment may take place weeks after the formal charge.
The purpose of the Arraignment is to inform the defendant of the charges against him, his right to be represented by an attorney, and his right to an adjournment to obtain an attorney. He will be appointed an attorney if he is without financial means to obtain an attorney. Bail may be set by the Judge at the Arraignment. If the defendant does not have the money for the bail, he may be put in jail. The amount set for bail reflects the Judge's view of the defendant's past record and the likelihood that the defendant will appear at future court dates. Conditions of Release may include No Contact with victims. In response to Arraignment, the defendant will enter a plea, either guilty or not guilty. Defendants usually enter a not guilty plea at this time, and no testimony is heard. The next court hearing is scheduled. This may be the Preliminary Hearing or the Early Resolution hearing.
If the defendant pleads guilty, a Preliminary Hearing usually follows. The court is not required to accept a guilty plea. The Judge assesses the offense, mitigating factors, the defendant's character, and passes sentence. If the defendant pleads not guilty, a date is set for a Preliminary Hearing or criminal Trial.
A plea of guilty may waive the jury trial if the prosecutor and defendant's attorney reach a plea bargain. The case against the defendant may then be settled. The prosecutor may agree to charge a lesser crime, reduce the charges, or dismiss some of the charges against the defendant. (See Early Resolution conference.) In most cases, plea bargains are used to reduce the number of cases and the impact on the criminal justice system. A fraction of cases that are filed in the criminal justice system are actually tried in court.