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When a person is arrested for DUI, he or she is usually “cited out” and released from jail the following day. The law enforcement agency will provide the driver with a Notice to Appear that includes the date, time and location of the defendant’s arraignment hearing. The date may be a few days after the arrest date or could be several months later. Defendants who are not released from custody will be transported directly to Court for their arraignment within two to three business days of their arrest. Many drivers who are arrested for DUI have no previous experience in dealing with the criminal justice system and often want to know what happens at the DUI arraignment hearing.
An arraignment hearing is not unique to DUI cases and is the first court appearance in a defendant’s criminal case. At the arraignment, the defendant (through his or her attorney) is provided a copy of the criminal complaint and the initial discovery packet. For DUI offenses, this will include the officer’s incident reports, the results of chemical testing and a copy of the defendants’ DMV record and criminal history. If the defendant is not represented by an attorney at arraignment, the discovery file may first have to be redacted to remove any identifying information for civilian witnesses or victims.
For the majority of DUI cases, a defendant can have an attorney appear on his or her behalf at the arraignment hearing and would not have to come to court. If the defendant does not have an attorney, he or she would have to personally appear in court and could end up waiting all day to have his or her case called. It is important to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney well in advance of the arraignment hearing. If the defendant does not have an attorney at the time of arraignment, the Court will give the defendant several options. The Court may allow the defendant to continue the arraignment so that he or she can retain private counsel. The defendant may also be able to apply for a public defender at the arraignment if he or she is found to qualify financially. And the defendant will be given the option of representing himself or herself, however this is never recommended as DUI offenses can be incredibly technical and require the assistance of a skilled attorney who understands how best to defend these types of cases.
At the arraignment, the prosecutor may make an offer to resolve the case. There are circumstances where the defendant may want to accept the People’s offer. However, in most cases the defense will enter a plea of not guilty and schedule a pretrial hearing. This would give the defense an opportunity to investigate the case and obtain additional discovery material from the prosecution. There may be other material, such as dashcam videos, audio recordings and Breathalyzer maintenance and calibration records that would help exonerate the defendant. This material is generally not available at the arraignment hearing.
At arraignment, the judge may set bail on the defendant or may set conditions of “O.R.” such as mandatory AA attendance or an alcohol monitoring bracelet while the case is pending.