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What to Expect in DUI / DWI Court

Posted by attorney Theodore Robinson

Most DUI defendants have never been arrested for anything before and don't know what to expect. It can be embarrassing and daunting to be arrested for anything, but DUI usually carries less of a stigma than other criminal charges.


Your first appearance may often be "the morning after" being arrested. You may be a bit disoriented and disheartened, but you'll have to appear before a Judge nonetheless. Its usually best to try to look your best, by straightening your clothes and pushing your hair back a bit.

You will find yourself sitting in a gallery in Court, often behind a glass wall, being told to look at the Judge and not be looking into the audience for friends and relatives. When your case is called, you will be accompanied to "the bar" to face the Judge and you will often be joined by a Public Defender if you or your family haven't been able to hire a private lawyer yet. The attorney will "Waive a reading" meaning none of the charges against you will be read aloud; enter a plea of "Not Guilty" and then demand a Jury Trial. This is called an Arraignment which merely means formally entering a plea.

Then the Judge will look to the DA to see if they want any bail or bond to assure that you return to court. Unless the DA offers a ROR meaning Released in Own Recognizance, without bail, there will be an immediate argument about how much bail should be set to assure you return. Your attorney will have spoken with you just before you entered the courtroom to determine how much you could afford for bail. The Judge finally sets bail or bond and if its posted, you are released from jail either at the courthouse or at the jail if bail isn't immediately posted. Usually jails will accept bail being posted 24 hours a day. The Judge sets another court appearance for three days to a month later and you must return on that date or your bail will be forfeited.

Some Judges, as a condition of being released on bail, will require what is known in NY as a STEP Evaluation which is an alcohol evaluation to see if you are an alcoholic and need treatment. It normally must be done by an OASAS approved counselor or agency. STEP is a county sanctioned agency that is used by the court in Nassau County for screening purposes. If you require alcohol assistance, then you will be directed to immediately enter into a program and if you don't go after being so directed, the Judge may revoke your bail on the next Court appearance.

The Judge may suspend your license summarily at Arraignment if he/she feels like doing so based upon any extenuating circumstances in your case. Sometimes they do it just because they want to. If you need your drivers license to go back and forth to work and it has been suspended at Arraignment, you have the right to a Hardship Hearing to obtain a hardship license from the Court. Such a license allows you to drive back and forth to your place of business and school, as well as to necessary doctors appointments and a limited amount of time to shop for food, but even that is questionable. If such a hearing is needed, it must be done within three days of Arraignment and must be scheduled quickly.


If you need your license to drive to and from work (but not while at work which is not provided for under the statute) you may conduct a Hardship Hearing which shows that you cannot make your way to your job through mass transit or by being driven by anyone in your home. You will be required to provide bus and train schedules as well as taxi costs, etc. to get to and from work. You must not only show that but you must provide schedules that show that it is impossible to get to work without a hardship in this fashion.

At your second Court Appearance the DA will usually make a plea bargain offer to your attorney. The offer will depend upon a number of variables, including whether this is a first offense ( a good thing), how high the breath test reading was (anything over .08 is considered intoxicated) and whether there was an accident or other extenuating circumstances in the case. Generally, if there's an accident or a high reading (over .12) no plea is offered in most counties. If its less than a .12 then the DA will often offer an Driving While Impaired DWAI which is not a crime, but a violation.

If you refused to take the breath test, your license will be revoked by the Department of Motor Vehicles and you get a quick hearing scheduled to determine whether they should keep your license. Notice of that hearing will be given to you at Arraignment, so read your papers carefully for the date, time and place.

If the plea offer is good enough or if you just want to get the case over with, you may withdraw your Not Guilty plea and enter a Guilty plea to a reduced charge as outlined by your attorney and/or the DA. Once that happens, your sentencing may occur right away or it may be postponed in order for the Judge to obtain what is known as a Pre-Sentencing Report from the Probation Department. Such a report informs the Judge about the case and its circumstances and your personal information. You also have the right to provide to the Court your own Pre-Sentencing Report to show the good side of you as well. It usually takes six to eight weeks for such a report to get back to the Court so your last date will be scheduled to coincide with that date.


The third time you appear in Court could be your sentencing date. If so, your attorney will have an opportunity to review the Pre-Sentencing Report and take notes ahead of the sentencing going forward. If he/she disagrees with something, he/she may usually get one adjournment of the case to get it corrected or obtain evidence to correct any errors. If you want your own report done by your attorney, they should have you obtain letters from friends and family telling about what a great person you are so the Judge can see a different side than what is presently before him/her.

Once the review of the reports is done and pre-sentencing conference is held, you should be ready for sentencing and you will appear back before the Court again. At that point the Judge will ask if you have anything to say and you should always speak to the Judge and say how sorry you are for what has happened and assure him/her that you will never be back before the Court again. Thank the Court for its time and apologize if appropriate to your family and any other appropriate party. If this sounds like groveling, it is, but its often worth it.

Once you are sentenced, if you are placed on Probation, you must then report to the Probation Department within 24 hours at the most to check in and be registered. You can expect to report about once a week for the first month or two and then the timing will become more lenient over time until you are eventually on a phone in basis until you are discharged from Probation.


If things do not go as smoothly as noted above, then you may need more court appearances to get the case finished. You may even have to go to trial, however, this guide is not going to go into all those details. I trust this will help you have less anxiety about your court appearances for DUI.

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