Why is Rule 10. such a key federal rule? First let’s note an arraignment hearing is one of the many small steps in the federal criminal process that must occur in all cases. Traditionally, the arraignment required the defendant’s personal presence in the courtroom. However, recent amendments to Rule 10 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure allow a defendant to waive his or her physical presence. Rule 10 is the rule that governs arraignments.
What Happens at the Arraignment
The purpose of the arraignment is to:
- Ensure the defendant has a copy of the formal charges against him or her;
- Have those charges read to the defendant; and,
- Have the defendant plead either guilty or not guilty to the charges.
Other things may also occur at the arraignment, such as scheduling future hearings. However, the three listed points are the most important things that occur at the arraignment. In the past, the defendant’s physical presence was thought necessary to make sure that the defendant understood what was going on and had an opportunity to state an initial response, the plea, to the charges.
The Changes to Rule 10
The defendant can now waive the opportunity to appear in court at the arraignment. The hearing will still take place, but only attorneys will be present. The defendant and the defense counsel must formally waive the defendant’s presence in writing. The judge does not have to accept the waiver and can require the defendant’s physical appearance. Rule 10 also now allows the defendant to appear by video conference. The defendant must consent to appearing by video conference, but the Rule does not state that the consent must be given in writing.
Taking Advantage of the Changes to Rule 10
To either waive being present at the arraignment or to appear by video conference, there is not much that the defendant needs to do. A defendant should speak to his or her attorney to see if either is a good idea. If the attorney agrees, then the judge and prosecuting attorney should be informed. Even though the request to appear by video conference does not have to be made in writing, as a practical matter it should be.
Should Appearance be Waived?
As stated above, a defendant should consult with his or her attorney before deciding to waive an appearance at the arraignment. Every case is different and only defense counsel can offer the specific advice for a particular case. However, there are some common reasons why it might be a good idea to waive the appearance at the arraignment:
- Out of Town – It is possible to be charged with a federal crime far away from home. If the defendant is not considered a flight risk, he or she might not be required to stay in the jurisdiction where the charges are pending. Because the arraignment is a short hearing, a defendant might not want to or need to travel to court for the hearing.
- Save Money – Criminal defense attorneys can be costly. It is possible for the hearing to be quicker if the defendant is not present as the judge will not need to ask the defendant if he or she understands everything. This can save defendants some attorneys’ fees.
- Unnecessary – If the defendant knows and understands all the charges, there might not be any practical reason for him or her to appear in court for the formal arraignment. In these cases, waiving the appearance can be appropriate.
Arraignments are an important, but small, part of the federal criminal process. The recent changes to Rule 10 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure now make it easier for criminal defendants to handle this particular hearing and waive their appearances if they choose to do so. Taking advantage of these changes is not difficult, but should only be done after consulting with a criminal attorney.