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What is a Federal Arraignment?

The federal arraignment is the process by which an individual is first called to appear before a federal district court and respond to criminal charges. The arraignment takes place in front of a United States magistrate. At the time of the arraignment, the defendant is presented with a copy of the charges and asked to enter a plea. The defendant is also assessed a bond and provided with bond conditions.

Rule 10 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure apply to arraignments in Michigan's Eastern and Western District Courts. Rule 10 provides that arraignments must take place in open court where a record of the proceedings can be made. According to Rule 10, the magistrate presiding over the arraignment must ensure that you are provided with a copy of the indictment or information. The magistrate must also read the indictment or information to you or inform you of the substance of the charge.

After this has occurred, you will be asked to plead to the indictment or information. In nearly every federal criminal case you will plead not guilty at the arraignment. As a practical matter, it is often not possible (or advisable) to plead guilty at this time.

In some circumstances it may be possible to waive your appearance. Such waiver is also provided for in Rule 10. To waive your appearance, you and your federal criminal defense lawyer must sign a written affirmation that you have received a copy of the indictment or information and that your plea is not guilty.

How Are Bond Decisions Made?

In most instances, the defendant will be interviewed by the court's pretrial services prior to his arraignment. Pretrial services refer to a department of the federal court charged with the responsibility of conducting an initial investigation for individuals scheduled to appear before a magistrate judge for arraignment. Their report is then used as the basis for a decision as to the bond and conditions which may be imposed by the magistrate.

The size or amount of the cash bond is rarely an issue in the federal criminal justice system because most magistrates in the Eastern and Western Divisions of Michigan's Federal Courts will almost always afford you the opportunity to be released prior to trial. The terms and conditions of the release will vary based upon the nature and facts of the criminal allegations. While probation will always be including some form of reporting, it may not be at all extensive, and in some cases, there may be very little reporting requirements. Alternatively, the reporting requirement can be extensive, include many terms and conditions and the magistrate judge may even require an electronic tether.

You can only be arraigned on an indictment or information. You cannot be arraigned on a complaint because the complaint is basically the government's attempt to hold you for a brief period pending the resolution of the charges, such as while an indictment or information is being processed or obtained.

The arraignment begins the process through which the speedy trial act and its requirements are triggered. Until you are arraigned, the terms of the speedy trial act do not apply.

What Are Typical Conditions of Bond?

Typical bond conditions include, among other things, the surrender of any firearms you might own, the surrender of your passport (depending on the nature of the offense), periodic reporting to a pretrial services officer as indicated above, drug screening where there are allegations of drug use, manufacture or distribution are involved, and when sex crimes and child pornography are involved, certain counseling requirements may be ordered.

What Happens if Bond Conditions are Violated?

If bond conditions are violated, a show cause order will be issued requiring the defendant to appear before the court and "show cause" why the defendant should not be held in contempt of court resulting in the canceling of bond. At that proceeding, the government will be required to show the basis for the alleged bond failure and the defendant will be afforded an opportunity to defend against the charge. The burden of proof at this hearing is preponderance of the evidence and not beyond a reasonable doubt.

Who is Present at the Arraignment?

At an arraignment, the defendant will be afforded the opportunity to be represented by counsel. If retained counsel is not available at that time, the proceeding is generally adjourned until the defendant can secure council. Alternatively, if the defendant cannot afford to retain a lawyer, then a federal public defender may be appointed for them in lieu of retained counsel. Others present often include a representative from pretrial services, the AUSA, and one or more investigating officers. The arraignment hearing is almost always conducted by a magistrate from the Eastern or Western District Court in Michigan. District Court judges rarely, if ever, conduct arraignments.

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