An arraignment is the first step in Tennessee's criminal court process. The arraignment concept can be traced to the English criminal justice system. Back in the day when some folks could not read, one was called out to hear the criminal charges being accused. The charges were formerly read by the judge to let the accused know what crimes were being charged.
The arraignment process is still being used in criminal courts today even though the practice is obsolete. In over 23 years of practicing criminal law, I only recall the judge reading the charges once. It was a sovereign citizen who insisted on the charges being read.
What happens at the arraignment?
- Your name is called by the judge.
- You step to the podium.
- You will go by yourself or your lawyer will go with you.
- If you do not have a lawyer, the court will ask if you are going to hire a lawyer, whether you can afford a lawyer, or are you going to represent yourself.
- The court will ask you how you plead. Your lawyer will enter a plea of not guilty.
- You will be given a copy of the indictment which lists the charges the government is bringing.
- You will be given a new court date to return to court.
Nothing really happens at the arraignment unless you fail to appear. You just appear and plead not guilty even if you are guilty. Under our rules of criminal procedure, your appearance at the arraignment can be waived. Your criminal defense lawyer can prepare a waiver of appearance you can sign to waive your appearance. The arraignment really serves no purpose in today's world. It does signal the start of the case in criminal court.