How to Avoid Messing Up Your First Day in Criminal Court
Decide In Advance If You Are Going to Need An AttorneyDon't wait until the first court date to decide if you need an attorney. The only question should be, if you decided you need/want one, is whether it is going to be public defender or private attorney.
(Note, in California for most DUIs, if you want to keep your license, you have to go with a private attorney because the DMV action is considered civil and therefore you are not entitled to a public defender - almost you normally only have 10 calendar days from date of arrest to request a DMV hearing to attempt to save your license).
If you go private and you don't want to appear at your first court appearance (assuming it's not a domestic violence case, in which case you are required) - they can normally appear for you - they will tell you if this is the case when you hire them.
If You Need to Go Public Defender...Get to court early and ask the bailiff for a public defender application (bring a pen with you) and fill it out before the judge calls your case! Consider bringing a book to write on. If you make even a modest amount of money, don't expect the application to be granted. The worst the Judge can do is say no and tell you to come back at another date with a private attorney.
Be careful and Take Anything the Bailiff Says with a Grain of Salt (or a whole shaker)Remember, he is a cop, similar to the one that arrested you to begin with. Many will tell you just to plead guilty while waiting for the Judge - some will tell you that even if you are not going to plead guilty at your first appearance to go ahead and fill out the waiver of rights anyway (this is a document that you are basically confessing to being guilty and giving up your rights = DON'T fill out this form if you are not planning on pleading guilty right them and there.
Be careful and remember the bailiff has 1) Not Gone to Law School and 2) Is NOT going to help you get off or get a good deal - why would they?
Show Up Dressed Like You Are Going to Church and NOT Like You are Going to Paint A HouseContrary to what your mother taught you on looking to what is on the inside - people judge what's on the outside (just like a judge) and God judge's what's on the inside.
Shave (if you are a man) - leave the sun glasses in the car, wear pants that come all the way up. If you don't have a jacket...borrow one! A tie is good to.
If a female a pants suit it fine, a long dress...not a mini-skirt!
Think..."Would my grandmother be proud of what I'm wearing right now if we were in Church?"
Know Your Schedule for the Next Two MonthsAssuming you are not going to just plead out at the arraignment (generally the worst deal is at the 1st court appearance - sort of like the first offer at a used car lot)...you'll need to come back for the next court date (not a trial date, but usually a semi-formal negotiation, many times called a pre-trial conference).
The Judge will tell you when to come back to court - it would be better to know your schedule so that if you are unavailable (wedding, training, vacation) you can respectfully ask the Judge right them for a slightly different date. Ask politely if you can have a slightly different date - they don't have to give it to you, but if you ask kindly, have a reason, and are dressed like in step 4, there's a good chance if you are respecting the court the Judge will give you the date you want.
Don't Show Attitude!Most Judges won't remember you from your first court appearance, no matter how polite, innocent, etc you are...unless you have a bad attitude, then they'll remember you and not in a good way - you want the Judge to think of you as only having to be in his/her courtroom for this one case - not that you are about to start a life time relationship with him/her in their courtroom.
Early Is On Time. On Time is LATE! and Late is UnacceptableBe early, significantly early just in case you can't find your courtroom or your tire goes flat. Nothing worse then starting off with a bad impression.
Have Copies For Your AttorneyIf you are going with the public defender then if you have documents which you think are relevant - have copies for them (keep the originals unless they request them). By giving them to your attorney at the 1st first court appearance, they'll put it in your file and that way they are likely to review them.
Remember..."copies", just in case your attorney loses them - which has been known to happen with such a high case load.
Bring a Small Pad of Paper and A PenTake notes of anything you are told to do! Don't rely on your memory and don't be afraid to ask for it to be repeated if you didn't hear it all. Better to get it right the first time.
Make sure to write down your next court appearance...the "title" of the appearance, the date, and the time.
GRAB your public defenders card if you go that route (don't expect them to respond to your calls if they have a high case load) - Ask them before you go when would be a good time for you to call and discuss your case - don't be offended if they say don't call, just show up at the next appearance.
Finally - This is A Synopsis of What the Judge is Going to Say and Ask1. They will confirm your name and possibly your birthdate.
2. They will read you the charges against you - unless you have a private attorney (in which case they may or may not and expect your attorney to explain the charges)
3. They will ask you how you wish to proceed if you don't have an attorney already - the usual responses are a) Request a public defender (so have application ready) b) plead guilty, c) plead not-guilty and represent yourself (I don't recommend), d) Request more time to find a private attorney
4. They will ask you if you waive time to be tried (normally this is yes at the beginning and can be changed to no later) - it basically means that you are waiving your right to have a trial within 45 days of the first court date (if you are out of custody) and 30 days if you are in custody. You want to give your attorney as much time as possible to prepare for your case - they may change this once they are prepared.