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Do I have to appear for a California Misdemeanor or can my attorney go for me?

Under California Penal Code Section 977a, an attorney can appear for a defendant on most misdemeanor charges. There are two exceptions. The first exception involves charges of domestic violence where the code states, “The defendant shall be present for arraignment and sentencing, and at any time during the proceedings when ordered by the court for the purpose of being informed of the conditions of a protective order." Now, in practice not all courts will hold a defendant to these requirements. However, the safest course is to be present in court. Here is where your attorney’s experience and knowledge of specific judges and prosecutors will come in play. I generally don’t have my clients present at the 1st court appearance, which is known as the “Arraignment and Plea." However, I have practiced for years in front of the same judges and with the same prosecutors. Under certain circumstance, I will have my clients on call, just in case. The second exception involves charges of DUI (driving under the influence), the court may order a defendant to be present for the arraignment, at the time of plea, or at sentencing. Once again, this is where a defendant must rely on the experience and knowledge of their attorney. In my practice, I like my clients to go back to their normal lives as soon as possible. I want to spare my misdemeanor clients the burden of going to court. However, I have strategically used a sympathetic defendant’s presence to help move a prosecutor to a more generous offer.

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