Arraignment in Nigerian law simply the process and manner of bringing an accused person before the court to answer to the charges against him or her.
Criminal proceedings in court starts with arraignment of an accused person (the suspect) in court and the charge is read to him.
HOW IS AN ACCUSED PERSON SUPPOSED TO BE ARRAIGNED?
There is procedure for valid arraignment under the law. The accused person must be brought to court unfettered, then the charge will be read and interpreted to him, and to the satisfaction of the court that the person understood same, before he will be required to take his plea. SEE SECTION 271(2) OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE ACT 2015.
OPTIONS AVAILABLE TO AN ACCUSED PERSON UPON ARRAIGNMENT
Upon the Charge being read to the accused person, the accused person has several options under the law. These includes:
An accused person may upon arraignment, after a charge is read to him raise preliminary objections. The preliminary objections can be anchored on lack of jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter.
The various factors that may deprive court of the jurisdiction to hear the matter will include:
i.Defects in the Charge read to the accused person: If the charge read is defective in it’s form, an accused person through his counsel may raise it before the plea is taken.
ii.Statute of limitation: if the charge or crime alleged therein is statute barred, it is a ground for raising preliminary objections. Under Nigerian laws, an action for treason must be brought within 2 years, seduction within 6 months, custom and exercise offences within 7 years, and offence of defilement of girls under 15 years, within 2 months
iii. Ground of pardon. if a person has been tried and convicted of offence and later pardoned, such a person cannot be re- arraigned again for the same offence. SEE SECTION 36 OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION OF NIGERIA AS AMENDED
The issue of double trial is also forbidden by law. It raises a plea of autrofois convict or autrofois acquit.In other words, no one who has previously be convicted or acquitted can be retried again for the same offence. SEE SECTION 36 OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION AS AMENDED.
2.PLEA OF NOT GUILTY.
If the Defendant fails to raise any of the preliminary issues discussed above, then it is expected that he takes his plea. He may elect to plead guilty to the offence charged.
The effect of such plea if entered will depend on the nature of the offence charged. If the plea of guilty was entered in charge of simple offence, the court can convict the accused person solely based on his plea without calling for further evidence. In some cases, the prosecution may proceed to call few evidence to corroborate the plea and nothing more.
But where an accused person pleads guilty to offence with capital punishment, the court will enter a plea of not guilty for him and the matter will go into hearing. At all, time the burden of proof of the crime alleged rest on the prosecution and the standard of proof required is proof beyond reasonable doubt. SEE THE CASE OF FABIAN NWATURUOCHA V STATE.
3.AN ACCUSED PERSON MAY PLEAD NOT GUILTY.
Certainly, there is constitutional presumption of innocence already hanging on the accused person. pleading not guilty to the offence alleged opens wilder door for the prosecution to discharge the legal burden of proof placed on it by law.
4.AN ACCUSED PERSON MAY KEEP MUTE.
In rare occasions, an accused person may after a charged is read and explained to him, elect not to say anything.
READMORE: 6 LEGAL RIGHTS OF AN ACCUSED PERSON
The court in this regards, is required to investigate the cause of the muteness whether the muteness is deliberate or due to the visitation of the gods.
Where the court is satisfied that the muteness is deliberate, the court will enter a plea of not guilty for the accused and the trial will proceed. But if the muteness is due to the visitation of the gods, or the person is of unsound mind, the accused person will be detained or released on bail. SEE SECTION 278 ACJA
5.PLEAD GUILTY TO THE OFFENCE NOT CHARGED.
An accused person may plead guilty to an offence not charged. In that circumstance, the court can order the amendment of the charge to accommodate the plea. The court can as well insist that the accused be tried base on the charge before it. But where court neglect such plea of guilty for lesser offence, if the accused is tried on the charge before the court and fails, the court can no longer convict the accused of his previous plea. SEE ODE V FRN
6.REFUSAL TO PLEA.
Where an accused person refuses to take his plea, the court will enter a plea of not guilty for the person, and the trial will proceed and it shall have same effect as if the accused pleaded to charge. SEE SECTION 276 ACJA.
7.DEAF AND DUMB.
In rare occasions, the Defendant may not be able to speak or hear. In such situations, the court will find a way to make the person understand the charge read before he will be required to take his plea. But where it cannot, the accused person will be detained at the pleasure of the governor.
8.PLEA OF NOT GUILTY BY REASON OF INSANITY.
An accused person may plead not guilty by reason of insanity. In other words, that he was insane when he committed the alleged offence. Such plea does not avail the accused person. The court will determine whether the accused was truly insane when he committed the alleged offence.
where the accused person was truly insane, the court shall order the detention of the accused person at the pleasure of the governor. But if he was not insane, the plea of not guilty by reason of insanity shall fail and the accused shall be convicted and sentenced accordingly.