Waiver Of Formal Arraignment: What Does It Mean?

Waiver of formal arraignment usually means that the court can just get on with things.

But for a defendant who has never been through the system, or his family sitting in the back, legal jargon like this can cause a lot of anxiety.

In this article we’ll talk through what each of these terms mean separate and when put together.

Waiver of Formal Arraignment (Explained)


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What is an arraignment?

An arraignment is a hearing (“arraignment hearing”).

An arraignment is also the process of giving the defendant notice of the pendency of the charges in the case.

This is an important moment in the case, as the case can then proceed towards trial.

The prosecutor can’t really proceed with the case to trial until the defendant has been arraigned.

A defendant attends his arraignment, and then he is arraigned.

What happens at a formal arraignment?

When he is arraigned, the court does a few things on the record (meaning being recorded):

  • announces the case number
  • announces the full name of the defendant as it is written on the charging instrument (a piece of paper)
  • confirms that the spelling is correct
  • confirms that the date of birth and other individual identifying information is correct
  • reads the defendant a statement of his rights in the case
  • reads the entirety of the charges to him aloud
  • confirms on the record that the defendant has copies of the charges in hand

Then, if the case is a misdemeanor, the judge will ask the defendant for his plea (guilty, not guilty, or no contest).

It is expected that the defendant will enter a not guilty plea at arraignment.

If I defendant tries to enter any other plea, the judge will usually refuse to allow him to do so, unless he can prove that he has already talked with a lawyer, investigated his options and defenses, reviewed discovery evidence and more.

If the case is a felony, the judge will not ask the defendant for his plea, unless the felony charge has already been indicted.

(Indicted means having gone through grand jury).

What is a waiver?

In open court, a waiver usually means it’s okay, we are cool with not doing that.

And then the case proceeds without doing the thing that the defendant chose to waive.

What is a waiver of formal arraignment then?

Waiving formal arraignment usually means that the defendant understands that the court is supposed to do all the stuff mentioned above (reading the charges, reading the rights, etc), and that it is okay if the court doesn’t do it.

A waiver of the arraignment is usually entered by the attorney standing up with the defendant at the hearing.

When I was practicing and attending arraignment hearings with clients, I would stand up with the client after the case was called and say something like:

“Attorney So and So, appearing here and in person with Mr Client in this case No. xxx-xxx-xxxx. We acknowledge receipt of the complaint/indictment in this matter and waive further reading and advice of rights. Mr. Client enters a not guilty plea to any and all charges listed therein, and asks that this matter be set for status hearing in the normal course.

By waiving formal arraignment, I could save myself and the client a lot of time and money.

When you charge hundreds of dollars an hour, saving five minutes here and there can really add up for the client.

Is A Defendant Missing Out On Anything By Waving Formal Arraignment?

If the defendant has an attorney, usually he is not missing anything.

He already has an attorney, and a big part of the arraignment is about the right to an attorney, the right to have an attorney appointed, the right trial, etc.

For any defendant who had an attorney, waiving formal arraignment was a matter of course, done in every case.

After all, the defendant is there, in open court, and knows about the case.

He’s already gone out and hired a lawyer to help him.

There is very little need at that point to notify him of the pendency of the case.

He knows.

What About A Written Waiver of Formal Arraignment?

To make things even more efficient and speedier, many courts now utilize written waivers, instead of requiring that personal appearance of the parties to the hearing to enter the waiver.

These written waivers usually do the same as what was recited earlier: waiving the arraignment (meaning reading of rights and the charges), and enter not guilty pleas.

While the forms differ, some of them ask the defendant to acknowledge his specific rights (to trial, to discovery, to motions, etc).

Wrap Up

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