DUI Arraignment – you first court date
An Arraignment is a fancy word for your first court date in front of a judge. If you were arrested for a DUI, you are normally given a ticket by the police officer and at the bottom of the ticket
is a court date and the address of the court you have to go to on this date. This court date listed on the bottom of your ticket is your arraignment or first court date in front of the Judge.
Do you have to attend?
You never want to miss this first court date or be late because a Judge will almost always issue a bench warrant  for your arrest if you do not come to court for your arraignment. A lawyer can appear for you at your arraignment or first court date so you don’t have to appear if you are charged with a misdemeanor. If you are charged with a Felony  you will need to appear at your arraignment.
When is your DUI Arraignment Hearing?
When you get arrested for DUI in Los Angeles County, normally after your release from jail the next morning, the police officer will issue you with a ticket which is a Notice to Appear. This ticket or Notice to Appear includes the date, time and location of your arraignment hearing. The date may be a few days after your arrest date or could be several months later.
What happens at your DUI Arraignment Hearing
Important things that usually happen at your arraignment include:
- You or your attorney will appear before a judge at your arraignment hearing.
- The Judge will read the charges against you.
- You can usually get a copy of your police report and find out your breath or blood test results at your arraignment.
- Normally on a first time DUI, you will not have to post bail to stay out of jail. You are normally released on your own recognizance. However in some courts in Los Angeles County on a first time DUI if you were involved in an accident or have a very high breath or blood test result, the Judge might order you to do a certain amount of AA meetings per week as a condition of your own recognizance release.
- If you need more time to hire an attorney you can ask the Judge to continue your arraignment for a few weeks or longer and the Judge will almost always give you a continuance so you can hire an attorney.
- If you cannot afford to hire your own attorney you can ask for the help of the Public Defender to help you with your case at this first court date or arraignment.
- The prosecutor may make an offer to resolve your case. This is called a plea bargain. See below for more details.
- You will be asked by the Judge to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or “no contest”. If you are unsure what to plea, the Judge will usually enter a plea of “not guilty” on your behalf.
- The Judge will announce dates of future proceedings in the case. If you choose to plead guilty at your arraignment, the Judge will give you future court dates to fulfil your court-ordered obligations. He will tell you the due date for you for such things as when you have to pay your fine or do your community labor, and when you have to enroll in and complete your alcohol program.
In summary, your arraignment is your first appearance in Court before a criminal court judge. If you have an attorney, he or she can appear on your behalf at your arraignment hearing and handle things for you so you don’t have to appear if you are charged with a misdemeanor. If you are charged with a Felony  you will need to appear at your arraignment. An arraignment is a court hearing in which the charges against you are read out by the judge, and you must respond by pleading guilty or not guilty or you can ask for a continuance of the arraignment. An arraignment hearing is not unique to DUI cases and is the first court appearance in a defendant’s criminal case.
Preparing for your DUI arraignment
Who will represent you?
If you do not have an attorney at the time of your arraignment, you will have to make a personal appearance at your arraignment and the Court will give you several options:-
- You may ask for a continuance to give you time to find your own attorney.
- You may be able to apply for a public defender at the arraignment if you are found to qualify financially.
- You may choose to represent yourself.
See DUI TASK 5: Choose who will defend you  for help with choosing who should defend you.
Should you plead guilty or not guilty
This is possibly the most important decision you will have to make in regard to your DUI. You can choose to:-
- Plead guilty or “no contest” and accept a plea bargain from the Prosecutor
- Plead “not guilty” and take your case to trial with a jury
What is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is an agreement with the prosecutor in which you plead guilty or no contest to an agreed upon charge with an agreed upon punishment.
The prosecutor is the government lawyer who takes over your case from the police officer after you were arrested for DUI. The prosecutor determines the plea bargain offered to you. Usually, the offer is predictable if there are no aggravating circumstances .
To learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of accepting a plea bargain versus taking your case to trial with a jury, see DUI TASK 6: Choose Plea Bargain or Jury Trial .
What happens if I plead guilty? And what happens if I plead not guilty?
At your arraignment for a DUI, you have the option to plead guilty or not guilty. Keep in mind once you plead guilty to the DUI charge you will be convicted of a DUI charge and this DUI will now be on your criminal record and you will have to do everything the Judge orders you to do. Once you plead guilty it is usually very difficult to withdraw your plea of guilty if you change your mind. It might be a good idea before you plead guilty to a DUI to consult with an experienced DUI attorney who can inform you of all the potential consequences of a guilty plea to a DUI charge. With a DUI there can be consequences relating to immigration, drivers license, employment, professional license, insurance, and travel to Canada. You should consider all these consequences before pleading guilty so you are totally aware of all potential consequences before a DUI goes on your record after a guilty plea.
Another option at your arraignment for a DUI is to plead not guilty and come back to court at a later date. This gives you more time to conduct an investigation to do such things as check the breath machine accuracy and maintenance records, see if the police car has a video of you driving, being pulled over, etc. It also allows you more time to analyze your options and learn about the consequences of your DUI.