The federal arraignment is a court hearing after an indictment, complaint, or criminal information is filed in which the defendant is informed of the criminal charges filed and enters a plea. This is the first appearance by the defendant in federal court after the arrest.
The arraignment is not a trial. It is simply the proceeding required by the law
where the accused is informed of the indictment and pleads to it. If the defendant has not been indicted, the arraignment triggers the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to an attorney. Every defendant about to be arraigned will have an attorney, whether privately retained or assigned by the court. Some courts allow lawyers to represent a defendant at an initial appearance only. It is called representation for arraignment purposes only.
If a defendant has been arrested on a criminal complaint without a warrant, the court has to make probable cause determination at the arraignment. The law requires that this determination be made quickly, within 48 hours, if the defendant is to be detained pre-trial after a warrantless arrest. So, most arraignments in federal courts actually happen on the day of the arrest or on the following day.
Under Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 5(a)(1), defendants arrested in the United States must be arraigned “without unnecessary delay” before a magistrate judge or “a state or local judicial officer.” Unless the law permits otherwise, a defendant arrested outside the United States may not be arraigned before a state or local judicial officer. In some jurisdictions, if a defendant is secretly cooperating with the government after he was arrested, the arraignment can be delayed through a special waiver of speedy arraignment.
The question is what is “unnecessary delay”. This can be a very contested issue and courts will examine relevant facts to make that determination. However, there are some delays that can be excused by justifiable circumstances. There are serious issues involved where the defendant is arrested and makes a confession to law enforcement prior to his arraignment. The question courts dealt with is whether the confession could be coerced by delaying the arraignment and whether it should be suppressed. Today, confessions elicited after unnecessary delay exceeding six hours may be suppressed.
Confessions made where the arraignment has been delayed for more than six hours are still admissible if the delay is reasonable based on the time and distance required to present the defendant to a judge. In one case, a confession was admissible even after a delay of more than two days because the arrest happened before a weekend, and there was no long, hostile, or coercive interrogation.
A defendant who is arrested outside of a district where the warrant has been issued must be arraigned without unreasonable delay in the district of arrest before he is removed to the district of prosecution. Fed. R. Crim. P. 40(a). All the rules applying to arraignment will apply in this case as well, including a detention hearing, during which the issue of bail is decided.
One very important issue resolved during the federal arraignment is bail. The judge has several options when it comes to setting bail. Court may order the release of the defendant on personal recognizance or upon signing an unsecured appearance bond”, release the defendant if there are sufficient assurances that the defendant will return to court and will not harm others, detain the defendant for up to 10 days, excluding weekends and holidays, to allow the government to take the defendant into the custody in some other proceedings, or order permanent detention based on the risk of flight and/or dangerousness.
If your loved one has been arrested by federal law enforcement, you will have several hours to retain private counsel before the arraignment. Because the main goal is secure the defendant’s release, it is always beneficial to be proactive and reach out to the prosecutor before the arraignment to discuss the bail package and come to court prepared.
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