I don’t have an DUI attorney – what happens at arraignment?
Many people have not hired an attorney by the first court date for their DUI case. They get a notice in the mail telling them that they must appear in court in Tampa or Plant City in Hillsborough County, FL, for an arraignment in their DUI case.
What happens at the arraignment if you do not have an attorney?
UPDATE from August 5, 2011: A recently released study from the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (FACDL) suggests that if you go to arraignment on misdemeanor charges in Florida, you should expect three minutes of justice.
Click here to read more about statistics on misdemeanor arraignment hearings in Florida.
Purpose of Arraignment in a DUI Case
If you do not have an attorney, the purpose of the arraignment under Florida law is to inform you of the criminal charges that have been filed against you and to give you an opportunity to enter a plea – either guilty, no contest, or not guilty.
Pleas of “guilty” and “no contest” are basically the same. Either way, you are adjudicated guilty by the court, and you can never seal or expunge the mug shot, arrest records, or court file.
The court can issue a warrant for your arrest if you do not appear. The failure to appear warrant may have a “no bond” provision. That provision means that after you are arrested, you will not be able to get out of jail until you see the judge to resolve your case or until the judge grants you a bond.
The judge can also issue a D-6 suspension that will suspend your driver’s license until you get a Florida D-6 clearance.
So do not miss your court date or appear late. If you miss your court date, you may want to hire an attorney to ask the court to withdraw the capias and get the D6 suspension cleared.
If you turn yourself into jail on a failure to appear capius, you will have another arrest record and mugshot. So many people are better off hiring a private attorney quickly if they miss a court date.
If you retain a private attorney, your attorney will enter a plea of “not guilt” on your behalf. The attorney will usually file a “Written Plea of Not Guilty and Waiver of Arraignment.”
That way, you do not have to attend once the clerk has received the proper paperwork, set the next court date, and excused you and your attorney from attending the arraignment.
Going to Court on the DUI Case
On the day of your arraignment, you will sit in a completely packed courtroom. The judge will take the bench and explain all the rights you are giving up if you enter a plea.
In order to keep some control over the court’s docket, the court expects to resolve a lot of the cases that day at arraignment for people not represented by an attorney.
Many people get caught up in the moment and enter a “no contest” plea just to get it over with even though they originally intended to ask for additional time to hire an attorney.
If you want more time, then say, “Not guilty. I want to hire an attorney to help me.” The judge will ask whether you want to hire a private attorney or request a public defender.
Either way, your attorney will need time to obtain your police reports, video, and other evidence. Your attorney must conduct a thorough investigation. You should also do your own investigation and obtain a copy of your police reports and video.
Entering a Plea at Arraignment
The court moves quickly, calling each individual and asking how they plead. If they enter a “not guilty” plea, the court will ask them if they intend to hire an attorney.
For those individuals who can not afford an attorney, the court will appoint the public defender’s office or tell the individual how to apply for the services of a public defender.
For those individuals who are not entitled to a public defender, the court will pass their court date for a few weeks to give them time to hire an attorney.
Signing Away All Your Rights
If you want to enter a plea, the court will also require you to sign a “waiver of rights” form saying that you know you have the right to an attorney, but you want to waive that right.
The purpose of requiring you to sign the rights form is so that if you realize that you made a terrible mistake by entering a plea without being represented by an attorney, you can not go back to court and claim that your plea was made without knowledge of the terrible consequences.
The waiver of rights form also tells you about all the other rights you are giving up, including the right to go to trial and require the prosecutor to prove the case beyond all reasonable doubt.
Read the Fine Print
The waiver of rights form also tells you about some pretty terrible indirect consequences that can result from the plea to DUI under Florida law, including impacting your immigration status and subjecting you to deportation.
Mentioned in the fine print is the impact the plea to a DUI could cause on your driver’s license, including causing a five-year revocation of your driver’s license (if you have two other “driving while license suspended” tickets on your record during any five year period – even for civil infractions that did not require a court date).
Other indirect consequences can include a ban on your right to carry a firearm for domestic violence charges.
Habitual Traffic Offender 5-Year Revocation Under Florida Law
The five-year revocation habitual offender revocation under Florida law can occur even if the other two tickets are for “driving while license suspended” either with or without knowledge (even if you simply paid those tickets without going to court).
If you have ever been cited for driving while your license suspended, either with or without knowledge, it is particularly important that you talk with an experienced Tampa DUI attorney before you even think about entering a plea so that you can avoid becoming a habitual traffic offender with a five-year revocation of your Florida driver’s license.
The Judge’s Turn to Impose the Sentence
For those individuals who enter a “guilty” or “no contest” plea, the court will make sure they sign the plea form. The court will then impose a sentence.
For any DUI, the court is then required to “adjudicate” you guilty of the offense. This means you can never seal or expunge your record.
The DUI conviction will be on your driving record and your criminal history records for your entire life.
The Statutory Minimum Penalties for DUI
The court is also REQUIRED to impose at least the statutory minimum for the offense. Check here – DUI penalties – to read more about the statutory minimum sentence the Court must impose after a DUI conviction unless you avoid the conviction by fighting your case.
Many people try to talk with the judge about the facts of their case and why they deserve a lighter sentence only to be cut off by the Court.
If you have favorable facts in the case, the court will typically not give you a chance to be fully heard unless you have an attorney.
The court simply does not have time to give each person a chance to say everything they want.
What a DUI Defense Attorney Can Do
Individuals who have retained a private attorney prior to arraignment will usually be able to avoid the entire process of going to court for the arraignment.
First, private attorneys typically file numerous motions prior to arraignment to preserve the individual’s rights. These motions can include the following:
- Notice of Appearance – notifies the court and the clerk’s office that you have retained a private attorney and that any notices of future court dates should also be sent to your attorney’s office.
- Waiver of Appearance – this document must be signed by you and inform the court that you want your attorney to be able to appear for the pre-trial court dates without your appearance being required. By signing the waiver of appearance, you are able to avoid going to court for the pre-trial court dates so that you can avoid the stress and inconvenience of a court appearance.
- Waiver of Arraignment and Written Plea of “Not Guilty” – because of the limited purpose of the arraignment (notification of the charges and opportunity to enter a plea), a private attorney will usually file a written plea of not guilty, which replaces the need for the attorney and client to actually show up in court.
- Statement of Particulars – This document is necessary to attack any legal deficiency in the charging document and requires the prosecutor to provide additional information about how, when, or where the offense occurred.
- Demand for Discovery – this document requires the prosecutor to hand over a list of any witnesses they intend to call at trial as well as all documents in their file pertaining to the accusation, including police reports, supplemental reports, crash reports, driving records, etc. Most importantly, your attorney can obtain any videotape evidence of how you looked on the roadside before the arrest and how you looked at central booking when asked to take the breath test. If the State has lost, destroyed, or failed to preserve this evidence, your attorney can file a motion to dismiss the charges.
- Motion to suppress – this document alleges that the evidence obtained by the arresting officer should be thrown out by the court because the police made a mistake or violated the driver’s constitutional rights in some manner (this motion may be filed after arraignment when the attorney has reviewed all of the prosecutor’s evidence and investigated the case).
- Motion to dismiss – this document alleges that the facts are not in dispute and that under those facts no crime occurred (this motion may be filed until after arraignment when the attorney has reviewed all of the prosecutor’s evidence and investigated the case).
Talking with an Experienced DUI Attorney in Tampa
Most Tampa DUI Lawyers provide a free initial consultation to discuss the particular facts of your case and possible defenses that can be used so that you can avoid a DUI conviction.
Acting quickly after a DUI arrest is important because you only have 10 days to request a formal review hearing to fight against any administrative (immediate) suspension of your driver’s license.
If your attorney requests a hearing to protect your driver’s license, then your attorney can also help you obtain a 42-day driving permit that lets you continue driving while your attorney fights the administrative suspension.
Hiring an attorney before arraignment will also help ensure you do not waive any important rights, such as the right to contest the sufficiency of the charging document or waive your right to a speedy trial.
Don’t see the judge alone. Contact an experienced DUI Attorney in Tampa to discuss your case today.
If you can not afford to hire a private attorney, ask the court to appoint a public defender to represent you. Proceeding without any legal representation can have life-changing consequences.
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