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An arraignment must be conducted in open court. The defendant is given a copy of the indictment or information. It is then read in open court. The court then asks the defendant to plead guilty/not guilty/no contest.

This is the first public appearance of the defendant in open court. The defendant must stand and listen as the indictment or information is read, although he should have already been given a copy. His identification is confirmed, and he is asked if he has been informed of the charges and legal rights. The judge may also inquire as to whether the defendant has legal counsel.

An arraignment is a brief process where the judge only wants to hear one of three things: guilty, not guilty, or no-contest This is known as the plea, and the defendant must utter one of those with no room for explanation or elaboration. If the defendant pleads guilty or no contest, he is sometimes sentenced on the spot. If he pleads not guilty, he is scheduled for trial. A defendant who stands mute has a plea of not guilty entered on their behalf.

Some defendants will have had their defense lawyer arrange a plea bargain beforehand, so that the act of pleading guilty is openly noted as a negotiated plea to which the judge must consent. A judge can reject a plea of guilty if he thinks it was made under duress, non-intelligently, or if the bargain is too last-minute or lenient.

See Stages in a Criminal Trial - US