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Criminal procedure


The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives a person charged with a criminal offense the right “to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation.” The state or federal government usually meets this obligation to inform the defendant of the charges against them at the arraignment—also known as the initial appearance or initial hearing.

Usually within 72 hours of being arrested and charged, a defendant is brought before a magistrate judge for arraignment. At that time the judge will generally (1) read the criminal charges against the defendant; (2) ask the defendant how they would like to plead to the charges—guilty, not guilty, or no contest (if the defendant pleads guilty the next step is sentencing); (3) ask the defendant if they have an attorney or would like a court-appointed attorney; (4) determine whether to grant bail and if so, set the amount of the defendant’s bail, or revisit the amount of bail if it has already been set; and (5) announce dates of future proceedings in the case, such as the preliminary hearing, pretrial motions, and trial.

In many cases the law allows the defendant to be released from jail or prison before a trial if they meet the requirements for bail—and for lesser charges a defendant may be released on their own recognizance (promise to return to court for trial). Before the judge makes the decision on whether to grant bail, they must hold a hearing to learn facts about the defendant, including how long the defendant has lived in the area, if they have family nearby, prior criminal record, gang affiliations, and if they have threatened any witnesses in the case. The judge also considers the defendant’s potential danger to the community. And if the defendant cannot post bail (pay the money), the defendant will remain in jail—or in federal court, for example, the judge may order the defendant to be remanded immediately into the custody of the U.S. Marshals pending trial.

Laws regarding the timing and procedures for arraignment depend in part on the state or federal jurisdiction and the nature of the criminal charges.

In Texas, the Sixth Amendment's guarantee that a person charged with a criminal offense be informed of the charges against them is upheld through the arraignment process. Typically, within 72 hours of arrest, a defendant will appear before a magistrate judge for arraignment. During this initial hearing, the judge will read the charges, inquire about the defendant's plea, determine if the defendant has or needs an attorney, consider bail, and set dates for future proceedings. Bail decisions are made after a hearing that assesses various factors about the defendant, such as community ties, criminal history, and potential danger to the community. If the defendant is unable to post bail, they may remain in custody. The specific procedures and timing for arraignment can vary based on whether the case is in state or federal court and the nature of the charges.

Legal articles related to this topic

Arraignment vs. Indictment: When Is It a Criminal Charge? Understanding the Early Stages of a Criminal Case
While differentiating between arraignment vs. indictment might seem complex, the reality is simple. An indictment is a formal document presented by the prosecution to a grand jury, and arraignment is a case’s formal introduction to the court system.