DUI - Arraignment
A typical arraignment for a DUI drunk driving offense will consist of the defendant being called before a judge who will then:
- Read out the charge(s) the defendant is facing
- Make inquiries as to whether the defendant has legal counsel or would like to apply for assistance from a court appointed attorney
- Ask the defendant how he/she answers to the charge (pleads to the charge)
A drunk driving defendant who is ineligible for court appointed legal counsel and who would like additional time to appoint a private DUI lawyer may ask the judge to delay (continue) the arraignment for a week or so in order to arrange adequate legal counsel from a drunk driving attorney.
Pleading guilty or no contest
An arraignment may be the first and the last appearance at court for a drunk driving defendant who is pleading guilty or no contest (nolo contendre).
This is because in simple less serious DUI cases, especially if it is the defendants first DUI offense, the judge will accept a guilty plea and sentence the defendant immediately.
In more complex serious cases and where a significant amount of jail time is a strong possibility, which is often the case if the defendant has multiple DUI convictions or one or more aggravating factors surround the drunk driving case, the judge will accept the guilty plea but delay sentencing to a later date.
If this is the case, then the defendant will be required to submit to an investigation made by a probation officer who will compile a pre sentence report which is submitted to the court before the DUI sentencing hearing.
What is the difference between pleading guilty or no contest?
Defendants sometimes wish to plead no contest to a DUI charge if the court is wiling to accept this kind of plea. This is especially true in DUI cases where there has been damage to property or injuries caused. This is because a no contest plea cannot usually be used as evidence of guilt in civil cases brought about by any injured parties.
Scenario: A drunk driver hits a car causing $20,000 worth of damage. The injured parties try to sue the defendant in a civil court. If the defendant has pleaded guilty in a criminal court to driving while intoxicated, this can be used in evidence in the civil case to try and prove that the defendant was at fault due to being intoxicated. If however the defendant pleaded no contest in a criminal court to driving while intoxicated, this cannot be used as proof in the civil court case.
A no contest plea is, in effect, the defendant not admitting that they are guilty but rather saying that the evidence against them is so strong that they could not prove themselves innocent. Whether or not pleading no contest is a possibility will depend on the state and facts surrounding a DUI charge. The law is complex which is why hiring a DUI lawyer is often crucial.
Pre sentence reports
A probation officer will conduct a thorough investigation into the drunk drivers background and will interview the drunk driver and check their criminal record.
They may talk with any victims of the drunk driving incident if applicable, arresting law enforcement officers and family of the defendant. The probation officer will then compile a pre sentence report, with a recommendation for sentencing which will be submitted to the judge in time for the sentencing hearing.
It is important that the defendant make a good impression with the probation officer who is compiling the pre sentence report. They should attend any meetings with probation officers on time, suitably dressed and be respectful.
During the interview it is also important for drunk drivers to outline any mitigating factors surrounding the offense and even more importantly mention any activities that will be classed as rehabilitative and productive. This includes voluntary enrollment and attendance at treatment programs such as alcoholics anonymous, securing employment, returning to education, seeking medical and/or psychological help for any substance abuse problems etc.