What Happens in Court When Arrested for DUI?

When you are arrested for an alcohol related DUI (VC23152(b)), there are two separate and independent proceedings that are going to happen.  First, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Driver Safety Office will take action against your driving privilege by trying to suspend your driver license.  You have 10 days from the date of arrest to request a hearing with the DMV to contest the suspension.  Note that if you are arrested for a drug related DUI (VC23152(f)) (no alcohol) the DMV will take no immediate action against your driving privilege. But if you are convicted of the drug related DUI, the DMV will suspend your license based on the conviction.

The second proceeding that will happen if you are arrested for a DUI is the Court case; the District Attorney will move to punish you for breaking the law by filing criminal charges against you in Court.

Keep in mind that even though both the DMV and Court proceedings arise from the same DUI arrest, each proceeding is independent from the other and each is handled differently.  What happens at the DMV hearing is the subject of another article.

Arraignment – The First Court Appearance:

Typically, after being arrested you were released on your own recognizance (O.R.) after spending a few hours in jail. In addition, you were given a Notice to Appear that you signed promising to appear in Court on a specific date. This is referred to as a “cite and release,” which is how most DUI cases are usually handled by law enforcement.  The Court date is your Arraignment hearing which is your first Court Appearance.

At the Arraignment hearing you are formally advised by the Court of your constitutional rights and the charges filed against you by the District Attorney.  After being advised by the Judge of the charges filed against you, the Judge will ask: “how do you plea?”  If you plead GUILTY, the Judge will sentence you right then and there.  And, you will now be convicted of a DUI. This is usually not a smart thing to do, as at this point, you have not had the opportunity to examine any of the alleged evidence against you.

When you plead guilty at the Arraignment hearing, you are admitting that all of the charges against you are true.  By doing so, you are essentially saying that everything the arresting officer did was correct, there are no problems with any of the chemical tests, and the chemical test results are accurate and reliable.  And therefore, you are guilty of the crimes charged.

Although there may be strategic reasons why you may want to plead guilty at the Arraignment hearing, the better thing to do is to enter a NOT GUILTY plea so that your expert DUI defense attorney has the opportunity to examine all of the evidence that the government has against you.  Once a not guilty plea is entered, the Court will set the case for a pre-trial hearing usually 4-6 weeks out.

Also, at the Arraignment hearing the attorney gets a copy of the ‘initial discovery packet’ which consists of the complaint, arrest report, chemical test results, and any other relevant documents that the District Attorney has in its possession.

Note that If your case is filed as a misdemeanor, your attorney can appear at the Arraignment hearing for you and you do not need to appear in Court at all. If the case against you is filed as a felony, you generally must appear at all court hearings.

Pre-Trial Hearings/ Discovery Stage of Case/ Defense Motions:

The purpose of Pre-Trial hearings – a series of hearings conducted before the case goes to trial – is to give your attorney the time necessary to carefully review the arrest report and other related documents and determine what additional evidence is necessary to complete a case analysis.  Your attorney will likely prepare a ‘discovery request’ and send it to the District Attorney.  The additional evidence requested may be video recordings of the driving, police body cam footage, audio recordings, documentation related to any breath machines used, and/or documentation related to the analysis of the blood sample.  The facts related to each case determine what evidence needs to be requested.  In addition, some cases require independent investigation, thus an investigator may be required.

The goal is to gather all the relevant evidence related to the case so that the evidence can be analyzed.  The strengths and weaknesses of all of the evidence needs to be determined to fully evaluate the criminal case.  Once all of the relevant evidence is gathered and analyzed, then the attorney can determine the best strategy to defend the case.    The defense strategy may include, but not limited to, filing a motion in court to suppress evidence due to an illegal stop or a blood draw not being done properly, etc.

In addition, during the pre-trial process negotiations with the District Attorney are ongoing to resolve the case without having to go to trial.

The Pre-Trial /Discovery stage process can take 4 to 6 months to complete, and sometimes longer depending on the case.  Thus, there will likely be multiple Pre-trial hearings.

Court Attendance:

One of the benefits of having private counsel is that you don’t have to be in Court for a misdemeanor case.   Although you have a right to attend all court hearings, most appearances are informal so there is no need for you to be in court.  If the case is a felony, your appearance is required.

In a nut shell:

To resolve any criminal case in court, including a DUI case, all of the evidence must first be gathered and analyzed to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecutor’s case against you.  Gathering the evidence (the discovery process) takes time, so you need to be patient as the process continues.

The ultimate goal is to get the best outcome for the client: (1) goal #1 is to find a way to get the case dismissed, (2) if that is not an option, then goal #2 is to get the case reduced to a lesser charge that is not a DUI, and (3) if that does not work out, then goal #3 is to negotiate the best settlement given the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence.  The alternative is to set the case for a Jury Trial if you decide you want to go to trial.

Each case turns on the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence.    The stronger the evidence against you means that the prosecutor’s case is strong.   If the evidence has problems with it, then the prosecutor’s case is not so strong.

It is essential to have an expert DUI defense attorney representing you to get the best possible outcome for your case.