This guide lists four (4) things to expect at your first court appearance after you have been arrested for DWI in the State of New York.
Arraignment: What is it?
Depending on the circumstances of your case, at some point, you will be brought before a Judge for the first time to answer the allegations against you. In some cases, this will happen immediately following your arrest. However, in most cases, particularly first time offenders, you will be given an appearance ticket by the police. That appearance ticket will give you a date, time, and location of the court where you must appear to answer the charges. This first appearance to answer the charges is known as the arraignment. A number of things happen at that first court appearance and you should consider contacting an attorney as soon as possible after you are arrested. DWI is not just a simple ticket in New York State; it is a crime. Preparation at each stage of your case is crucial.
Reading the Charges and Entering a Plea.
One of the main purposes of arraignment is for the the Judge to notify you on the record of the charges you are facing and give you an opportunity to enter a plea at that time. Generally speaking, a formal reading of the charges is waived at arraignment. However, this can vary based on your jurisdiction and your presiding Judge. An experienced DWI defense attorney in the area you are charged can explain the process and general practice further. After you are notified of the charges lodged against you on the record, you have an opportunity to enter a plea. In almost every situation, that plea will be "not guilty" at arraignment. Remember, this is not a simple traffic ticket. It is very unlikely that your case will be resolved at the first court appearance. You and your attorney will likely be given additional paperwork related to the case that you haven't seen before. This paperwork allows your attorney to make an honest assessment of the case against you, prepare legal defenses, negotiate with the prosecutor, etc. Doing those things effectively will take time.
Suspension of Your Driver's License
Yes, you read that correctly. In New York State, your driver's license is subject to a mandatory suspension at your DWI arraignment; even on a first offense. An experienced attorney can go over what options you may or may not have based on the specifics of your case. Be wary of what you've been told by friends, family, and police pertaining to your driver's license and what can or cannot be done for you. License suspension and conditional license eligibility is a very large topic that deserves a legal guide of its own. I will give you a very brief overview of factors that are considered. First, if it is alleged that you submitted to a chemical test (a chemical breath test, for example) and the result of that test was a .08 or greater, the law requires that your driver's license be suspended at your arraignment. Depending on a number of factors, you may be eligible for a "hardship license" immediately, and/or a conditional license after the fact. A good defense attorney can review your case and tell you about your eligibility. If it is alleged that you refused to submit to a chemical test when asked by police, your license will be suspended at your arraignment. At that point you will not be eligible for any kind of hardship or conditional driving privileges. You are entitled to an administrative hearing through the Department of Motor Vehicles on whether or not you actually refused to submit to a chemical test. That hearing will likely be scheduled by the Judge at your arraignment. A good attorney can advise you what driving privileges (if any) you are eligible for and adequately prepare you prior to your arraignment.
Bail Status and Your Return to Court
Another aspect of your arraignment is the Judge determining your bail status. You and/or your attorney will be given an opportunity to be heard on the issue of bail and make argument if necessary.
The Judge may release you on your own recognizance. This means you are able to come and go as you please, as long as you stay in contact with your attorney and return to court as directed. Keep in mind, bail status is revocable. That means, if you are originally released on your own recognizance but fail to return to court as directed, get arrested again, or violate a court order, your release status can be revoked and you can be taken into custody. The Judge may also "release you under supervision." If the Judge will not release you on your own recognizance, they may still release you. However, you may have to report to a pre-trial services program as they direct. They may restrict your travel among other things. A judge can also set bail on you. The Judge will set an amount of money that must be paid by either cash or bond (depending on the circumstances) before you will be released from jail. Finally, in some cases, a local court judge must hold you in jail without any bail. A good attorney can explain those situations to you as well as petition a higher court to have bail set in your case. Ultimately, a new court date will be given at the conclusion of your arraignment. That new court date is the next stage of the in-court process; but that is for another legal guide to discuss.
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