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Step By Step California DUI Guide: The Arraignment

US Supreme Court

This is a step-by-step guide to help those recently arrested for DUI in California. The arraignment is the first official court date for those who have been arrested for DUI. By now, you should have attended your DMV hearing. All of the steps are available here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

Many of those arrested for DUI in California go to their arraignment believing that it is their opportunity to plead their case and hopefully have it dismissed. This is not the purpose of a DUI arraignment. The arraignment is where you will find out what criminal charges have been filed against you, your Constitutional rights, as well as bail status. This is also where you are given your first opportunity to enter a plea: no contest, not guilty, or guilty.

The DUI arraignment is a critical step in the DUI process. It is important to note that hiring a DUI attorney, or at least contacting one and obtaining a free case evaluation, can greatly affect your case outcome and is highly recommended to avoid costly common mistakes. You can request a public defender at your arraignment proceeding, but to ensure that you are fully prepared we recommend contacting an attorney beforehand. It is very important that you attend your arraignment, as a failure to appear can result in a warrant for your arrest.

Preparation for Your Arraignment

When preparing for your arraignment it is important to decide whether you will plead “guilty”, “not guilty”, or “no contest”. If you go to your arraignment unprepared and do not enter a plea, your judge will enter a “not guilty” plea on your behalf. Usually, those facing DUI charges in California are advised to plead “not guilty” at their arraignment, but there are plenty of exceptions. If you or your attorney has been able to work out a plea bargain, pleading “guilty” at the DUI arraignment will be required to take advantage.

More often than not, those charged with a DUI are not in the best position to accept a plea deal at their arraignment, but there are exceptions. If you are unsure as to what your best option is and your arraignment is approaching, pleading “not guilty” is much safer than pleading “guilty” or “no contest”. If you plead guilty and decide that you wanted to plead “not guilty” later, it is unlikely that you will be given the chance to do so.

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What Happens if I Plead Guilty?

How you will plea at your arraignment is one of the most important decisions you will have to make during your DUI process. If you plead guilty or no contest, you will be sentenced by the judge and your court proceedings will come to an abrupt end. Unfortunately, so will your chances of avoiding a DUI conviction on your criminal record. Too often, those who plead guilty to California DUI charges are unaware of the repercussions of their actions, and it is very difficult to withdraw a guilty plea once it has been made.

California laws allow a lot of leeway for judges when sentencing those convicted and penalties can vary widely depending upon the circumstances of each individual’s case. Those convicted face maximum penalties of six months in jail, $2500 in fines, ten month license suspension, and an interlock ignition device in some counties.

What Happens if I Plead Not Guilty?

If you decide to plead “not guilty” your Judge will set a date for your Pretrial Hearing. This usually occurs within 90 days from the date of your arraignment. This will allow you and/or your attorney time to evaluate all of the evidence pertaining to your case as well as negotiate possible plea bargains with the district attorney.  It is important to note that any plea bargain offered by the prosecution at your arraignment may be revoked if you plead “not guilty”. Usually, the plea bargain offered by the district attorney will no longer be available after you plead “not guilty”. Later plea bargains may be substantially better or substantially worse as the date for your Pretrial Hearing approaches.

Plea Bargaining

Want more information about the plea bargaining process in California? Click here or come back soon to see what DUI plea bargaining is, how you can increase your odds of obtaining a favorable plea bargain, as well as the positives and negatives of obtaining a plea bargain for your California DUI charge.

Click on any of the following to learn in-depth info about other stages of the process.