Infographic with pictures of handcuffs, a courthouse and a judges gavel. The caption reads what is felony arraignment?

What does felony arraignment mean? Here is the short answer; A felony arraignment is nothing more than a court proceeding dealing with a criminal case. In some instances, a criminal court may decide to set bail for the defendant during the arraignment, but this is not guaranteed. Inside this article we will discuss arraignment proceedings in detail and what to expect.

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What Does Felony Arraignment Mean?

No one wants to hear the words ‘felony arraignment.’ There are no positive feelings associated with those terms, but many people are unclear what a felony arraignment is, precisely, or what to expect at one. This article will help to not only demystify the terms and explain what happens, but also look at what a person should expect, and how the process actually works.

There’s no good way to put it—an arraignment isn’t a pleasurable experience, nor should it be. But although it may not be a positive event, understanding what’s involved beforehand will at least help relieve some of the associates stress. And more importantly, it’ll help to know how to prepare ahead of time in order to improve one’s odds of getting the outcome they desire!

Legal Terms Defined

Let’s define our legal terms before we begin…


We know that a felony is:

“A category of crimes that are often classified as the most serious types of offenses, and they can be either violent or non-violent. The main characteristic of a felony is that being found guilty of a felony will result in incarceration for at least one year.”


An arraignment, meanwhile, is a very specific term which means:

“a criminal proceeding at which the defendant is officially called before a court of competent jurisdiction, informed of the offense charged in the complaint, information, indictment, or other charging document, and asked to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or as otherwise permitted by law.”


Thus, to boil it down to its most simple definition, a felony arraignment is nothing more than a court proceeding dealing with a criminal case. In some instances, a criminal court may decide to set bail for the defendant during the arraignment, but this is not guaranteed. It just depends on the jurisdiction within which the arraignment procedure is taking place. Also, many times no bail is set, but instead the court simple allows the defendant to go free pending further proceedings. This is commonly referred to via the phrase: “releasing the defendant on his or her own recognizance.”


In essence, the term “recognizance” is defined as: “a bond by which a person undertakes before a court or magistrate to observe some condition, especially to appear when summoned.” The word “bond,” however, might be misleading because in fact there is no monetary bond given to the court in this situation. The only thing given is a legal promise by the defendant to return to court upon request. There is no bond or bail set when one is released on their own recognizance, and no money has to be paid. Their word is their bond.

What Happens First During an Arraignment

Now that we’re clear on terms, let’s get back to what happens during a felony arraignment. An arraignment is only the first step which a court goes through with the defendant. It’s the beginning of a formal legal process within which the accused is officially charged with the perpetration of a felony crime. This arraignment hearing informs the defendant of their various applicable rights, as granted by the United States Constitution and other federal and local laws.

This information is required to be given by the court to the defendant, under the 6th Amendmentto the Constitution, which: “…guarantees the rights of criminal defendants, including the right to a public trial without unnecessary delay, the right to a lawyer, the right to an impartial jury, and the right to know who your accusers are and the nature of the charges and evidence against you.”

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Appointing an Attorney

By the time of their felony arraignment, a defendant should have made contact and communicated very openly and very clearly with their attorney. The role of the attorney cannot be overstated. The attorney, as legal counsel, is quite vital since it is they who will be representing the defendant in court, and who will in fact argue the defendant’s case.It is highly encouraged for defendants to not only ask questions of their attorneys but also to educate themselves on their own rights.

If for whatever reason a felony defendant hasn’t obtained their attorney by the time the arraignment hearings begin, the defendant will, by law, be made aware of their 6th Amendment right anyhow (i.e. the right to a lawyer).

Your Right to an Attorney

It is standard procedure for the court to ensure the defendant fully understands their right to an attorney and, specifically, the right to an attorney which is appointed by the court if the defendant has not got the necessary funds to hire their own lawyer. In other words, simply—the court has to make a lawyer available if the defendant can’t afford one.

This is such an ingrained part of the legal process that most people are aware of it merely from watching television shows! Nonetheless, don’t take it for granted. If the court somehow fails to fulfill this basic promise, they risk losing the case through their own negligence. All defendants have guaranteed rights which cannot be impinged upon or neglected, and there have been cases of mistrials due to improper following of normally standard procedures.

So, to be clear—if a defendant can’t hire their own attorney, they need to request their court-appointed one during the arraignment hearing.

What to Expect Next During the Felony Arraignment Process

At the felony arraignment, the court must let the defendant know the precise details of the case against them. As stated above, it is vital that the defendant be made aware of the exact charges against them, and failure to do so puts the entire legal process in peril. A defendant ought to usually be given a written statement of their indictment, i.e. “the formal charge or accusation of a serious crime.”

Once this is accomplished in accordance with all local and federal laws, and once the defendant has been made totally aware of all criminal charges against them, then they are asked a very basic but extremely important question: How do you plead?

Enter a Plea? Guilty or Innocent…

The point of this article is not to provide legal advice about how to plead! However, as a general rule of thumb, if the defendant hasn’t been in full communication with their attorney, they should not make any hasty decisions about their plea. Indeed, it is considered VERY unwise to enter a guilty plea prior to consulting an attorney about the legal ramifications of such a statement!

After the attorney and defendant have agreed upon a plea, it is entered into the record and then the court will decide whether or not to set bail.


Bail, as you likely know, is defined as either: “security, usually a sum of money, exchanged for the release of an arrested person as a guarantee of that person’s appearance for trial,” or “release from imprisonment provided by the payment of such money.” So bail can be either a noun (to pay bail) or verb (to make bail).

It is not up to the defendant whether bail is set or not, however they are allowed to ask to be released, and a court can consider the request. Their decision will be based largely on the crime itself and upon whether or not it is the judge’s opinion that the defendant may attempt to flee or otherwise to not appear at the next summons.

In other words, the court has to weigh many factors. There is no rubber stamp decision; every case is different and it is incumbent upon the defendant’s attorney to attempt to argue in favor of the defendant being released on their own recognizance versus having to come up with the bail money. In some cases, the bail amount is much higher than an average person can pay, which the court fully realizes when setting such high bail amounts.

But if the court honestly feels that the defendant “poses a flight risk,” or again, if “the crime for which the defendant is being charged was violent in nature,” then the court may either set a high bail or no bail at all, meaning the defendant has no option but to remain in custody. In such a case, the defendant can always ask for a later bail hearing…but there are never any guarantees!

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Pretrial Release

Pretrial release is not a right, and the judge must make the decision of whether they believe the defendant is a danger to others. They’ll review the defendant’s criminal record, employment status and history, relationships with the local community, and of course whether or not the individual has ever skipped bail before.

Once the decision is made to either set bail, remand the defendant into custody, or set them free, then the court will set up the next appointment date for the defendant to appear in court.

Source: Legal Beagle 

A Few More Key Points About Arraignment

As discussed above, an arraignment is required to be made in a “reasonable time,” because the 6th Amendment insists upon the right to a speedy trial. If this requirement isn’t met and there are delays, the attorney is able to fight for a complete dismissal of all charges, and then the court must determine if the delays are justified or not. If not, the charges are dropped.

Another side note: actually a defendant has a right to waive arraignment, however this is also considered unwise. Arraignment, upon other things, forces the appointment of an attorney, and naturally it is logical that the quicker one secures legal representation, the better off they’ll be. There is no reason to postpone setting up the defense’s arguments!

One other point worth mentioning is that if you lose your case and become a convicted felon some states will allow you to have your record sealed or expunged.

Notice: This article should not be considered legal advice. Hire a knowledgeable attorney if you need legal advice or representation.

Felony Expungement – In a number of states it is possible to have your felony conviction either expunged or sealed. Imagine having your record swiped clean! Learn more here.