After the arrest, booking, and initial bail phases of the criminal process, the first stage of actual courtroom-based proceedings takes place; it is the arraignment. During a typical arraignment, a person charged with a crime is called before a criminal court judge, who:
- Reads the criminal charges against the person, now called the defendent
- Asks the defendant if he or she has an attorney, or needs the assistance of a court-appointed attorney
- Asks the defendant how he or she answers the criminal charges, that is, if he or she pleads "guilty," "not guilty," or "no contest"
- Decides whether to alter the bail amount or to release the defendant on his or her own recognizance
- Announces dates of future proceedings in the case, such as the preliminary hearing, pre-trial motions, and trial.
Also at the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor will give the defendant and his or her attorney copies of police reports and any other documents relevant to the case.
If a criminal defendant faces the possibility of jail time if convicted for the crimes charged, the defendant has a constitutional right to the assistance of an attorney, or "counsel." If the defendant wishes to be represented by an attorney but does not have the money to hire one, a government-appointed attorney will be assigned at no cost to the defendant. Usually employed as "public defenders", these government-appointed defense attorneys are responsible for zealously protecting a criminal defendant's rights at all stages of the criminal process.