If you have been charged with a DUI (Driving Under the Influence), you will have the opportunity to present your defence in court. A court hearing will be scheduled for a later date, but you will need to attend arraignment first. Then you can prepare for your DUI court hearing, which could be several weeks (or even months) in the future. Either way, you have some work to do if you want to reduce your chances of going to jail.
First, you should know that a DUI can be charged as either a misdemeanour or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the crime and the state in which you live. The prosecutor will have discretion as to how to charge you at your arraignment, so be prepared for any eventuality. A felony carries a far stiffer sentence than a misdemeanour, but both can result in jail time.
At an arraignment, which is the first of your DUI court hearings, you will need to enter a plea. The judge will ask if you want to plead “guilty,” “not guilty” or no contest. If you plead “not guilty,” a court date will be set for your trial; if you plead “guilty” or “no contest,” date will be set for your sentencing. In most cases, you’ll want to plead “not guilty” so that you get your day in court.
Either way, however, you can mitigate your potential sentence by entering a drug and alcohol awareness program. If you think you might be an alcoholic, you might want to take it a step further by entering rehab. DUI charges are extremely serious crimes, but judges are often more lenient with defendants who are willing to take responsibility and prevent the same situation from happening again.
It is also important that you retain the services of an experienced DUI attorney. In fact, I wouldn’t hire anyone who doesn’t have a caseload that is at least 50% DUI, because these are the legal professionals with the most related experience. Ask about the attorney’s track record with DUI cases, and don’t be afraid to keep looking until you find one who seems competent. I have never handled a DUI case, so I would not be a good candidate.
Even if you have a lawyer, you will also want to review the case law regarding DUI offences. Learn about the common penalties in your state, and specifically in your county, and talk to others who have been charged with similar moving violations in the past. The more you know about the charges against you, the more likely you’ll be able to fight them.
In court, you will want to be sombre and respectful. Dress in clothes you would wear to work, and make sure to meet the judge’s and prosecutor’s eyes when you are addressed. Make sure to let everyone in your court hearing know that you are sorry for what you’ve done (if you’re pleading “guilty”) or that you didn’t commit the DUI offence (when pleading “not guilty.”)