The Formal Arraignment is a step in the criminal justice process that indicates the matter has moved beyond the local District Justice to a Court of Common Pleas. This step is where the defendant is formally advised of the charges against him/her, the schedule for proceeding forward is set, and any preliminary pre-trial issues are taken care of.
The Formal Arraignment is not an opportunity to present evidence. It is strictly a procedural matter. In many jurisdictions arraignments are either done en masse or sometimes waived by signature.
The most important part of the Formal Arraignment for the defendant is what it means going forward. Following that date there are several scheduling matters that the defense counsel must consider.
1. Within 7 days the defendant must request a Bill of Particulars. This is a substantive request which unfortunately has become all but ignored in recent years, but it is still important.
2. Within 14 days the defendant must formally request discovery. This includes photographs, tests, statements, or other items which form the basis for the Commonwealth's case. This can be as simple as a letter to the DA's office but it must be done.
3. Within 30 days the defendant must file an Omnibus Pretrial Motion for relief. This might include matters such as suppression, change of venue, request for more discovery, or other matters.
I will go in depth as to what each of the above entails at a later date.
While the Formal Arraignment has been reduced to a procedural formality it is still vitally important as it sets the schedule going forward for important and powerful matters to come.