If you have been charged with a crime, you will be required to attend an arraignment hearing as part of the court process. At this hearing, the defendant will be advised of the charges against them and enter a plea. At this point the judge will also decide the conditions of their release.
This hearing is required to occur a reasonable time after an arrest, usually within twenty four hours. Depending on the state, the defendant is advised of his constitutional rights (such as right to counsel and right to self-incrimination). The defendant is then informed of the charges against them.
After the charges are read, the defendant will have the opportunity to enter a plea. There are three possible pleas, guilty, not guilty and no contest. If the defendant pleads guilty they may be sentenced right then and there. If the defendant pleads not guilty, it will give the prosecution time to investigate the case and gather evidence. This also buys time for the defendant, and gives them time to assemble a strong defense.
A plea of no contest means that the defendant acknowledges that the prosecution has everything they need to determine that a crime has been committed, but not that they were the person that committed it.
In the next stage of the proceeding, the judge will decide if the defendant will be released prior to trial. If the crime involved is particularly violent or heinous, the judge can opt to keep the defendant in custody until the trial. Usually however, the judge will release the defendant on their own recognizance. This means that the defendant is free to go, with a promise to return to the next hearing. The judge can also require that the defendant post a bond or bail.
A lot can happen at an arraignment hearing, and it is important that legal counsel is present to protect the defendant and ensure that a correct plea is entered and their conditions of release favorable.