An arraignment is a fancy legal term for the formal reading of the charges levied against a defendant and is often the first appearance in a court case. Let’s take a closer look at the process involved in an arraignment, when it takes place, and what a defendant should expect during this proceeding. 

What Is An Arraignment? 

Simply put, an arraignment is a preliminary hearing in front of a court where the charges against the defendant are formally read. In the state of Massachusetts, the Magistrate Judge will ask for a plea to be given, either guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere. These pleas will be explained further below.  

judicial gavel and scales

What Is An Arraignment Date? 

The arraignment date is often set promptly and can be held in the days following an arrest or, in the case of an arrest over a weekend, likely on the first business day of the week. Most commonly arraignments are held the next morning at the district courthouse. 

What Happens At An Arraignment? 

Knowing what to expect on the day of an arraignment is a smart way to stay informed and updated on what is going on in your court case. 

On the date of your arraignment, which should be on the paperwork you received, arrive early at the courthouse. There you will either meet your lawyer or a court-appointed lawyer should you not be able to afford one. 

Wear clean, professional-looking clothing to make a good first impression. Should you be unsure of the courtroom location upon arrival at the courthouse, ask at the information desk where there is likely a list of cases for the day and what room each is assigned. 

Once you have found your courtroom and met with your lawyer, it will be time to head into the room where you will await the calling of your case. Be sure not to engage in any loud, disrespectful, or distracting behaviors once in the courtroom. 

When your case is called before the judge you and your legal counsel will be called to the front of the court and in front of a microphone. It is during this stage that the charges will be read aloud and a defendant can enter a plea. 

Goddess of justice scales

What Are Plea Options? 

Defendants, with guidance from their lawyer, can enter a plea during the arraignment. The three options for this include: guilty, meaning that the defendant is admitting that the charges are true, not guilty, meaning that the defendant is denying the charges and is seeking to go to trial, or nolo contendere, which means “no contest” or that the defendant is not going to plead guilty, but is willing to be sentenced as if they were found guilty.

At the end of the arraignment, the judge and prosecutor will consider whether the defendant will be released on bail. In addition to the conditions and potential of bail, the court will also set future dates in the case.