Rule 10. Arraignment

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(a) In General. An arraignment must be conducted in open court and must consist of:

(1) ensuring that the defendant has a copy of the indictment or information;

(2) reading the indictment or information to the defendant or stating to the defendant the substance of the charge; and then

(3) asking the defendant to plead to the indictment or information.

(b) Waiving Appearance. A defendant need not be present for the arraignment if:

(1) the defendant has been charged by indictment or misdemeanor information;

(2) the defendant, in a written waiver signed by both the defendant and defense counsel, has waived appearance and has affirmed that the defendant received a copy of the indictment or information and that the plea is not guilty; and

(3) the court accepts the waiver.

(c) Video Teleconferencing. Video teleconferencing may be used to arraign a defendant if the defendant consents.


(As amended Mar. 9, 1987, eff. Aug. 1, 1987; Apr. 29, 2002, eff. Dec. 1, 2002.)

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1944

1. The first sentence states the prevailing practice.

2. The requirement that the defendant shall be given a copy of the indictment or information before he is called upon to plead, contained in the second sentence, is new.

3. Failure to comply with arraignment requirements has been held not to be jurisdictional, but a mere technical irregularity not warranting a reversal of a conviction, if not raised before trial, Garland v. State of Washington, 232 U.S. 642.

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1987 Amendment

The amendments are technical. No substantive change is intended.

Committee Notes on Rules—2002 Amendment

The language of Rule 10 has been amended as part of the general restyling of the Criminal Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic only, except as noted below.

Read together, Rules 10 and 43 require the defendant to be physically present in court for the arraignment. See, e.g., Valenzuela-Gonzales v. United States, 915 F.2d 1276, 1280 (9th Cir. 1990) (Rules 10 and 43 are broader in protection than the Constitution). The amendments to Rule 10 create two exceptions to that requirement. The first provides that the court may hold an arraignment in the defendant's absence when the defendant has waived the right to be present in writing and the court consents to that waiver. The second permits the court to hold arraignments by video teleconferencing when the defendant is at a different location. A conforming amendment has also been made to Rule 43.

In amending Rule 10 and Rule 43, the Committee was concerned that permitting a defendant to be absent from the arraignment could be viewed as an erosion of an important element of the judicial process. First, it may be important for a defendant to see and experience first-hand the formal impact of the reading of the charge. Second, it may be necessary for the court to personally see and speak with the defendant at the arraignment, especially when there is a real question whether the defendant actually understands the gravity of the proceedings. And third, there may be difficulties in providing the defendant with effective and confidential assistance of counsel if counsel, but not the defendant, appears at the arraignment.

The Committee nonetheless believed that in appropriate circumstances the court, and the defendant, should have the option of conducting the arraignment in the defendant's absence. The question of when it would be appropriate for a defendant to waive an appearance is not spelled out in the rule. That is left to the defendant and the court in each case.

A critical element to the amendment is that no matter how convenient or cost effective a defendant's absence might be, the defendant's right to be present in court stands unless he or she waives that right in writing. Under the amendment, both the defendant and the defendant's attorney must sign the waiver. Further, the amendment requires that the waiver specifically state that the defendant has received a copy of the charging instrument.

If the trial court has reason to believe that in a particular case the defendant should not be permitted to waive the right, the court may reject the waiver and require that the defendant actually appear in court. That might be particularly appropriate when the court wishes to discuss substantive or procedural matters in conjunction with the arraignment and the court believes that the defendant's presence is important in resolving those matters. It might also be appropriate to reject a requested waiver where an attorney for the government presents reasons for requiring the defendant to appear personally.

The amendment does not permit waiver of an appearance when the defendant is charged with a felony information. In that instance, the defendant is required by Rule 7(b) to be present in court to waive the indictment. Nor does the amendment permit a waiver of appearance when the defendant is standing mute (see Rule 11(a)(4)), or entering a conditional plea (see Rule 11(a)(2)), a nolo contendere plea (see Rule 11(a)(3)), or a guilty plea (see Rule 11(a)(1)). In each of those instances the Committee believed that it was more appropriate for the defendant to appear personally before the court.

It is important to note that the amendment does not permit the defendant to waive the arraignment itself, which may be a triggering mechanism for other rules.

Rule 10(c) addresses the second substantive change in the rule. That provision permits the court to conduct arraignments through video teleconferencing, if the defendant waives the right to be arraigned in court. Although the practice is now used in state courts and in some federal courts, Rules 10 and 43 have generally prevented federal courts from using that method for arraignments in criminal cases. See, e.g., Valenzuela-Gonzales v. United States, supra (Rules 10 and 43 mandate physical presence of defendant at arraignment and that arraignment take place in open court). A similar amendment was proposed by the Committee in 1993 and published for public comment. The amendment was later withdrawn from consideration in order to consider the results of several planned pilot programs. Upon further consideration, the Committee believed that the benefits of using video teleconferencing outweighed the costs of doing so. This amendment also parallels an amendment in Rule 5(f) that would permit initial appearances to be conducted by video teleconferencing.

In amending Rules 5, 10, and 43 (which generally requires the defendant's presence at all proceedings), the Committee carefully considered the argument that permitting a defendant to appear by video teleconferencing might be considered an erosion of an important element of the judicial process. Much can be lost when video teleconferencing occurs. First, the setting itself may not promote the public's confidence in the integrity and solemnity of a federal criminal proceeding; that is the view of some who have witnessed the use of such proceedings in some state jurisdictions. While it is difficult to quantify the intangible benefits and impact of requiring a defendant to be brought before a federal judicial officer in a federal courtroom, the Committee realizes that something is lost when a defendant is not required to make a personal appearance. A related consideration is that the defendant may be located in a room that bears no resemblance whatsoever to a judicial forum and the equipment may be inadequate for high-quality transmissions. Second, using video teleconferencing can interfere with counsel's ability to meet personally with his or her client at what, at least in that jurisdiction, might be an important appearance before a magistrate judge. Third, the defendant may miss an opportunity to meet with family or friends, and others who might be able to assist the defendant, especially in any attempts to obtain bail. Finally, the magistrate judge may miss an opportunity to accurately assess the physical, emotional, and mental condition of a defendant—a factor that may weigh on pretrial decisions, such as release from detention.

On the other hand, the Committee considered that in some jurisdictions, the courts face a high volume of criminal proceedings. The Committee was also persuaded to adopt the amendment because in some jurisdictions delays may occur in travel time from one location to another—in some cases requiring either the magistrate judge or the participants to travel long distances. In those instances, it is not unusual for a defense counsel to recognize the benefit of conducting a video teleconferenced proceeding, which will eliminate lengthy and sometimes expensive travel or permit the arraignment to be conducted much sooner. Finally, the Committee was aware that in some jurisdictions, courtrooms now contain high quality technology for conducting such procedures, and that some courts are already using video teleconferencing—with the consent of the parties.

The Committee believed that, on balance and in appropriate circumstances, the court and the defendant should have the option of using video teleconferencing for arraignments, as long as the defendant consents to that procedure. The question of when it would be appropriate for a defendant to consent is not spelled out in the rule. That is left to the defendant and the court in each case. Although the rule does not specify any particular technical requirements regarding the system to be used, if the equipment or technology is deficient, the public may lose confidence in the integrity and dignity of the proceedings.

The amendment does not require a court to adopt or use video teleconferencing. In deciding whether to use such procedures, a court may wish to consider establishing clearly articulated standards and procedures. For example, the court would normally want to insure that the location used for televising the video teleconferencing is conducive to the solemnity of a federal criminal proceeding. That might require additional coordination, for example, with the detention facility to insure that the room, furniture, and furnishings reflect the dignity associated with a federal courtroom. Provision should also be made to insure that the judge, or a surrogate, is in a position to carefully assess the condition of the defendant. And the court should also consider establishing procedures for insuring that counsel and the defendant (and even the defendant's immediate family) are provided an ample opportunity to confer in private.

Although the rule requires the defendant to waive a personal appearance for an arraignment, the rule does not require that the waiver for video teleconferencing be in writing. Nor does it require that the defendant waive that appearance in person, in open court. It would normally be sufficient for the defendant to waive an appearance while participating through a video teleconference.

The amendment leaves to the courts the decision first, whether to permit video arraignments, and second, the procedures to be used. The Committee was satisfied that the technology has progressed to the point that video teleconferencing can address the concerns raised in the past about the ability of the court and the defendant to see each other and for the defendant and counsel to be in contact with each other, either at the same location or by a secure remote connection.