Arraignment

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By Kelvin Lee

Question of Law

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


REPORTS said Cedric Lee (no relation) and his co-accused were arraigned in Court. You will recall that they are accused of serious illegal detention of a movie actor in relation to a supposed rape that occurred. Rather than dwell on their case, since this is still pending before the courts, let us talk about the concept of Arraignment.

A good question to ask is, what is an Arraignment?

As per the law, Arraignment is the formal mode and manner of implementing the constitutional right of the accused to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him (see Sec. 13(2), 1987 Constitution). An arraignment is necessary in order to fix the identity of the accused, to inform him of the charge and to give him an opportunity to plead. (G.V. Jacinto, Criminal Procedure).

During the arraignment, the accused can then plead either guilty or not guilty. In short, the accused has to make a plea. A plea is the reply of the accused to the charges arrayed against him.

As per proper procedure, during arraignment the accused should be accompanied and assisted by counsel, in order to ensure that he is not being railroaded to make a plea he does not understand. If the accused attends the arraignment without counsel, the Court will usually appoint a “counsel de officio” to act as counsel for purposes of the arraignment. In theory, the lawyer whom the Judge will appoint as counsel de officio cannot refuse, since the appointment is only for the purposes of arraignment and thus only for a very short period of time.

The Information, or the document containing a description of the crimes of which the Accused is accused of, is then read out to the Accused in a language which he understands. Typically, if the Accused does not understand English, the Information is translated into a language he can understand.

The reading of the Information may be waived by the Accused. Some defense counsel recommend that the reading be waived to shorten the proceedings, but that is a matter of preference on the part of defense counsel.

The next step is for the Accused to plead guilty or not guilty. The Court will then order that the plea be entered for the Accused. It is rare for a guilty plea to be entered, not unless a plea bargain has been made between the Accused and the prosecutor. In the one instance I have seen a guilty plea entered by an Accused, the Court chose to reschedule the Arraignment, and to have the Accused undergo psychiatric counseling to ensure that the Accused understood the plea he was making. Thus, one can see how important the plea of the Accused is.

An Arraignment is significant because not only is the Accused presented to the Court, his plea is also heard before the Court. These will determine the course of the trial to follow. It is so important that the Court is actually authorized to appoint a “counsel de officio.” This particular procedure then opens up, or closes, various legal remedies for the Accused. For instance, if the Accused has been arraigned and the case is subsequently dismissed, then double jeopardy may apply, depending on the circumstances. In which case the Accused cannot then be charged with the same offense subject of the case.

Thus, in the case of the now very famous Cedric Lee and his companion, arraignment can either open up - or close – some of his legal remedies and options. As such, it remains to be seen whether or not the Arraignment for Cedric Lee (once again, no relation) and his companion, is a good or bad thing for him.
***

The opinions expressed herein are solely of Atty. Lee. This column does not constitute legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship with any party. You can reach Atty. Lee at lvlawoffices@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 15, 2014.

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