Once arrested for a misdemeanor or felony DUI, your first appearance in court is called the arraignment. At the arraignment hearing, you are informed of the charges against you, given a copy of the complaint, and you are given an opportunity to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The judge will also advise you of your rights, including your constitutional right to counsel. If you are indigent, and unable to pay for a DUI defense attorney, the court will appoint an attorney to handle your drunk driving case. Often your attorney will be employed by the local public defender’s office.
If you are charged with misdemeanor drunk driving and you hire an attorney to represent you, the arraignment is often done by fax or at the misdemeanor business counter at the courthouse. The defendant does not have to appear in court. If you are charged with felony drunk driving, you must be present in court at the arraignment even if you have retained a lawyer.
If you decide to attend your arraignment without a lawyer, and you get to court and change your mind, you can simply ask the court to continue your arraignment so that you have time to do so. In a misdemeanor case, the court will allow no more than a 7 day continuance for you to retain an attorney. If you are charged with a felony, the court will give you more than 1 day to obtain legal counsel. However, if the defendant has been charged with a misdemeanor under the vehicle code, a continuance of at least 5 days will be granted, (see California Vehicle Code Section 40306).
At the arraignment hearing, the defendant will be given an opportunity to enter a plea. The prosecuting authority, either a deputy district attorney or deputy city attorney, depending on where the case is filed, will give you an offer on the case. If you want to accept the offer and plead guilty you can do so. However, beware of accepting an offer at this stage! Often, the prosecutor will not have all the discovery to provide to you or your counsel. Therefore, you will not know the evidence they have against you for you to make an informed decision on whether to accept the offer. Often the offers at arraignment are generous, as the prosecutor has incentive to get people to plead guilty early in the case in order to minimize the cases that are set for follow-up hearings.
As an exclusively DUI defense attorney, I usually do not advise my clients to plead guilty until I am able to evaluate all the evidence the prosecutor has in your case. Often there are problems with drunk driving cases and a motion or trial can lead to a dismissal, a better offer with lesser charges and consequences, or an acquittal. So, even if you were over the legal limit of .08% blood-alcohol concentration, it is often in your best interest to enter a plea of not guilty, request all the discovery, evaluate the case, and then make an informed decision on what steps to take.
The above blog entry is by no means all-inclusive and is not intended as legal advice. Laws may change and may not apply to your case. For the latest information or to get specific legal advice in your matter, speak to a DUI attorney in your area.
If you have a DUI case pending against you, speak to The Law Offices of Susan L. Hartman about your defense today. Call 619-260-1122 or fill out the “Contact Us” form on this page for a free telephone consultation.