An arrest is merely the beginning of the criminal justice process in Pennsylvania. The many steps in the process are spelled out by the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure. These rules are intended to ensure that every person charged with a crime has an opportunity to know the charges, to consult with an attorney and to receive a fair trial.
Many of the steps have names that have survived from the English common law, and some of these terms are not readily understandable. One such term is “arraignment.” An arraignment is a proceeding in front of a judge, and it generally occurs early in the criminal process. The arraignment is intended to inform the defendant of the charges against him (or her) and that the defendant has the opportunity to be represented by a lawyer. Many defendants will have retained an attorney before the arraignment, and the arraignment provides an opportunity for the lawyer to request a bill of particulars specifying the exact nature of the criminal charges and to seek pretrial discovery of information relevant to the case. The defendant must also be informed of the right to bring other motions during the case, including motions to suppress evidence.
The defendant has the right to appear at the arraignment, but an appearance can be waived under certain circumstances, the most important of which is that the defendant be represented by counsel and that the attorney concurs in the waiver of the right to appear. The judge has the power to order the defendant to personally appear or to order that the arraignment be conducted using two-way simultaneous audio-visual communication.
A person charged with a crime can significantly help his case by hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney before the arraignment. The attorney will know the exact method to be used by the court to conduct the arraignment and will be able to bring any relevant motions to assist the defense of the case.
Source: Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 571, accessed on Jan. 20, 2014