The Process- Going to Court

The DUI Court Process (Misdemeanor Charge)

Misdemeanor Arraignment-  Most DUIs are charged as misdemeanors.   However, if you are charged with a felony DUI either because someone was injured as a result of the DUI (Vehicle Code Section 23153) or because you have multiple priors, you will go through an entirely different process from a misdemeanor charge.    Our best advice is not to try to handle a felony charge on your own.  Find an attorney–private or public defender.   This article focuses on the DUI court process as it relates to misdemeanor DUI charges.  (FYI, the overwhelming majority of DUI cases are misdemeanors.)  The first appearance you will make during a misdemeanor DUI court process is the arraignment.  Shortly after DUI charges have been filed against a person, he/she must go to court for an arraignment and possibly a bail hearing. If you are facing a second DUI there could be a bail hearing before the arraignment occurs. At the arraignment, the person must enter a plea of “not guilty”, “guilty”, or “no contest” and advise the court if they are willing to “waive time” for a speedy trial.  At the arraignment hearing, the judge will also set the case for a “Pre-Trial Conference”.  This is the first opportunity that your attorney will have to discuss the case with the DA and get an offer from the DA.

Should I waive time?  Probably, but sometimes there can be compelling reasons to not waive time.  For example, if you are prepared for trial and the DA isn’t, then you may not want to waive time.

What if I already waived time?  You can “pull the time waiver” at any hearing.

What is the effect of pulling the time waiver?  The case must go out to trial within 45 days.  If the DA is not prepared, this could be a powerful incentive for him to make you an offer either to a lesser charge, or for a reduced sentence.  In several cases, where I did not waive time, it resulted in the charges against my client being dismissed.

Remember, a person is innocent unless and until he/she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There are many defenses available for DUI arrests. If you are thinking of challenging the complaint against you, then our advise is to at least consult with an attorney if not hire one.

The Pre-Trial Conference:  The Pre-trial conference is the first opportunity you will have to speak to the D.A. and “get an offer”.  Generally, in making an offer the D.A. will speak in terms of “days” of work release or jail.  The fines, DUI school and probation tend to be standardized in each courthouse–in our experience a D.A. will only divert from that standard offer if (a) you are able to show them that there is a problem with their case or (b) the facts are such that the D.A. feels that a tougher sentence is appropriate.

Standard offers vary from county to county.  For example, as of the time of this writing a “standard first” in Santa Clara County is six days of Sheriff Work with one day credit (or five days of Sheriff Work).  In Alameda County a “standard first” is two days with one day credit.  In most counties probation is three years, but in Monterey County it is five years.  How do you find out what a standard offer is?  I always call the Public Defenders office for that county.  If your county doesn’t have a Public Defender’s Office then call our office and we will put you in contact with someone who knows.

It is not unusual in a misdemeanor case for a defendant to have several pre-trial conferences.  This is usually because the defense attorney did not yet get all of the discovery he or she was entitled to from the D.A.  At some point, the Court will declare an end to the discovery process and insist that the next hearing will be the final hearing.  This is called “dispo or set.”

“Dispo or Set”:  At this final pre-trial conference, the Court will either take a “disposition” from you–enter a plea based on the offer given to you by the D.A.– or it will “set” the case for trial, which means that the court will set a trial date.  Most counties include a “readiness conference” just before the date of trial.

Readiness Conference:  A readiness conference accomplishes several things.  First, it is a last chance to settle the case before the case goes to trial.  Second, a readiness conference allows both parties to indicate that they are “ready” for trial (usually the next Monday).