An arraignment is a court proceeding in which a defendant is informed of the charges against him or her and asked to enter a plea to the charges. In some jurisdictions, arraignments are held simultaneously with bail hearings, while, in other jurisdictions, a bail hearing is a separate procedure.
In order to be arraigned, a defendant must be formally charged with a crime. Furthermore, all jurisdictions have time limits that dictate how long a defendant may be held without being formally charged with a crime and then stating how long a defendant can be held after being charged but before being arraigned. This means that, once an arrest is made, there are time pressures on the state to formally charge a defendant or release the defendant until they can develop sufficient evidence to support criminal charges.
The need for an arraignment can be traced to the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, which states that defendants shall be informed of the charges against them. However, a state does not have to choose an arraignment as the means of informing a defendant of criminal charges, but can choose another method. Defendants in the federal criminal justice system are guaranteed the right to an arraignment, but that is because of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, not because of a constitutional right to an arraignment. Some states require that all defendants be arraigned, some require that only defendants charged with felonies be arraigned, some require that only defendants facing possible jail-time be arraigned, and some states do not require arraignments for any criminal defendants. Furthermore, state laws dictate what occurs at an arraignment. If the arraignment contains any actions that are considered critical, then defendants must be allowed to have counsel present and indigent defendants must be provided with counsel at the time of the arraignment.