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What happens at an arraignment hearing for a felony?
A felony arraignment hearing is normally the first formal court appearance in criminal cases where a defendant is charged with a felony offense. In most jurisdictions, these hearings are when courts
Some of the constitutional rights available to defendants in felony cases include:
With regards to entering a plea, note that a defendant can enter any of the following pleas during these court hearings:
Most state criminal laws say that this initial court appearance must take place without unreasonable delay. Further, in most felony cases, defendants must personally appear for the hearing court date and cannot agree to a waiver of this initial appearance.
Felony arraignment hearings are court proceedings that take place in criminal cases that involve felony charges.
The hearing is considered a type of first appearance, as it is typically is the first time an accused appears in court during the felony court process.
During this hearing:
With respect to constitutional rights, note that the U.S. Constitution affords defendants with the following:
Felony arraignment hearings in federal cases typically take place in a district court. The following parties are normally present during these pre-trial conferences:
Note that arraignment hearings also take place in misdemeanor cases that involve charges of misdemeanor crimes (such as DUI or some form of domestic violence).
Most jurisdictions say that an arraignment must take place within a reasonable time after a defendant is arrested.
An unreasonable delay in holding an arraignment is considered a violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.
There are times when an arraignment is not conducted until quite some time after a criminal complaint, indictment (filed after a grand jury trial), or information is issued. In these situations, a defense attorney may ask the judge that he/she dismiss any charges filed against the accused.
There might be. In some felony cases, the charges against the defendant may change. For example, a prosecutor may decide to reduce a murder charge to voluntary manslaughter.
In these events, the court may arraign the defendant again even though he/she already had an earlier arraignment.
When this happens, the accused usually enters the same plea as he/she did at the earlier arraignment unless the defendant entered into a plea bargain.
Generally, no. Most jurisdictions say that a defendant typically has to appear personally at an arraignment hearing in felony cases.
Some exceptions, however, may apply. For example, there are times when a defendant may appear in court via a two-way audio/video conference (sometimes called “video court”).
If a defendant does not attend his/her hearing, the court will generally issue a bench warrant/arrest warrant against the party. A bench warrant authorizes law enforcement officers to arrest the accused and bring him/her directly to court.
Failing to appear in court in a felony case is a felony offense. This is a separate crime from the offense for which the defendant is required to attend the hearing.
California’s criminal laws on felony arraignment hearings generally follow the rules and procedures outlined above.
Per Penal Code 825 PC, defendants must be arraigned within 48 hours of an arrest if authorities kept them in custody after the arrest. Weekends and holidays are not included when calculating this timeframe.
If an accused was released from custody after a felony arrest, then California law says that an arraignment must occur “without unnecessary delay.” In reality, however, if an accused is out of custody, it may be weeks or even months before an arraignment takes place.
As to entering a plea in California, a defendant can plead:
The defendant also has the option to request a deferred entry of judgment. “Deferred entry of judgment,” pursuant to Penal Code 1000 PC, is a type of diversion program available in some felony cases that allows the accused to abide by certain terms and conditions for a set period of time. If a defendant successfully completes the program, he/she is dismissed of all charges.
Depending on the circumstances, a defendant that fails to appear for a felony arraignment may face charges under either:
The failure to appear on a felony charge is a felony offense. The crime is punishable by:
Note that under California law, an arraignment is different than a preliminary hearing. The latter is held in felony cases after an arraignment occurs. But if defendants are “held to answer” for the chares at the preliminary hearing, then afterward they appear at a second arraignment that initiates the pretrial proceedings.
The purpose of the preliminary hearing is for the judge to determine if there is enough evidence to hold the defendant on the charges filed against him/her. The hearing is sometimes referred to as a “probable cause hearing.”
 Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition – “Arraignment.”
 See, for example, United States v. Chavez, 705 F.3d 381 (2013); and, United States v. Harrold, 679 F.Supp.2d 1336 (2009).
 California Penal Code 825 PC.
 California Penal Code 859 PC.
 California Penal Code 1000 PC.
 See California Penal Code 1320 and 1320.5 PC.
 California Penal Code 872 PC.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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