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A major concern for people who have been charged with driving under the influence is how they will be able to attend court proceedings. People often work fulltime jobs and are unable to take days off to handle a criminal case. In addition, being charged with a crime can be a very stressful experience and defendants often prefer not having to personally appear in court.
In most DUI cases in California, an attorney can appear on his client’s behalf in court so that the client would not be required to appear personally. Driving under the influence cases are usually misdemeanor level offenses. Under California Penal Code Section 977(a), a defendant has a statutory right not to be present in court on a misdemeanor charge and instead an attorney licensed by the State of California can make court appearances on the client’s behalf. However, there are several exceptions to this general rule.
Under California Penal Code Section 977(a)(3), a judge can order a defendant charged with DUI to personally appear for arraignment, plea or sentencing. Generally, judges in Los Angeles will allow attorneys to appear on behalf of their clients so that the client does not have to personally appear. However, there are some situations where a judge may require that a defendant personally appear. In some cases, the judge will want to impose bail or special conditions of release and thus the client may be ordered to appear for arraignment. This may be the case where the defendant has prior DUI convictions or he or she has been charged with DUI with injury. In these situations, it may be necessary to have a bail bond agent appear as well to ensure that bond can be posted immediately if the judge determines that bail is required.
A judge may also require that a defendant personally appear at the time of plea and/or sentencing. Many courts will agree to accept a guilty or no contest plea from a defendant as long as the defendant has provided a notarized plea waiver form. In these cases, the defendant’s attorney would be permitted to make the appearance on behalf of his or her client. However, some judges prefer defendants to personally appear so that the “Watson Advisement” can be read to the defendant. The Watson Advisement is a statement regarding the dangers of impaired driving and the inherent risk it poses to human life. Upon conviction of a DUI offense, the defendant must be informed that that if someone dies as the result of his or her impaired driving, the defendant could be charged with murder.
For defendants who live out of state or are otherwise unavailable, courts tend to allow all appearances to be made by an attorney so that the client would not have to travel to come to court. In some cases, judges may even allow attorneys to clear warrants on behalf of their clients without the client having to personally appear in court.