DWI Checklist: Arraignment

Your arraignment is your first appearance before the judge in your case. Judges are human beings, shocking, we know, but that means they are susceptible to forming a first impression that will effect the way they treat you and your case based upon that impression.  Part of making a good impression means making sure to find a Drug and Alcohol Evaluation from an approved provider.

Let’s start with how you should address the Court. Every judge is different, but no judge will take exception if you follow these simple rules:

  • Clothing: think of this as a job interview for the job you really really want. If you are a professional, then wear a suit. If you aren’t someone that’s comfortable in a suit, then wear something like you’d wear to church. Avoid T-Shirts and jeans, halter tops or short skirts. Never wear shorts or sweatpants.
  • Demeanor: when your case is called, walk quickly to the front of the Court and stand with your hands at your side. Do not put your hands in your pockets or lean on the bench or podium. Stand up straight and maintain appropriate eye contact with the judge. Your lawyer will answer most questions on your behalf, and should have sufficient knowledge to anticipate the Court’s questions. If the judge asks you a question, look to your lawyer to make sure it’s okay to answer.
  • Talking to the Court. Never speak to a judge unless you are asked a specific question. It is rare that you will be asked anything other than a yes or no question, and your response should be direct. Any statements to the Judge should be followed by the words, “your honor.” In other words, “Yes, Your Honor” or “No, Your Honor.” It doesn’t matter if you really truly respect the judge, it matters that you show respect. Arguing with the judge or with your attorney in open court is a bad idea. If you feel as if your attorney has missed something or misstated something, the best way to deal with that is to bring it up after your appearance. It’s likely your attorney can handle it or already has.
  • Be mindful of your conduct in the Courtroom. Don’t assume that simply because you are not standing in front of the judge, that you’re not being watched. While waiting for your case to be called, it’s smart to sit up straight, turn off your cell phone, and watch the proceedings. Most judges won’t mind if you read something while you wait, but some do, and it’s best to avoid that. Don’t talk while you’re waiting and if someone near you is talking, get up and walk away. No gum, food or drinks. It’s boring, it’s tedious, but it’s important.
  • Be respectful to Court Staff. The Court clerks and deputies spend a substantial amount of time with the judge and prosecutor. Some court staff members may not treat you very well, but most are professional and congenial. Never treat anyone on the Court Staff with anything less than the utmost respect. It’s not unusual for a judge to hear about your behavior from a clerk or deputy if you are rude or disrespectful. While no judge is likely to throw you in jail because you were rude, it won’t help things either.
  • Be on time. Your attorney may advise you that your case will not be called right away, or at the time it is scheduled for. Regardless, you will want to make sure to be on time, or early for every appearance. It shows the Court that you respect the process and take the matter seriously.

The Purpose of an Arraignment

The legal purpose of an arraignment is to start the case against you by establishing the Court’s authority or jurisdiction over you and your case. You will told in general terms what you are charged with, be asked to enter a plea (not guilty), and your lawyer will “waive a further reading” of the charges so that the judge will not read the entire contents of the accusatory instruments in open court, a lengthy and often embarrassing process. Your attorney will accept a copy of the documents filed by the police to start the action, and will “acknowledge receipt” for the record. Generally your attorney will make his first strategic decision at this point by deciding what the next step in your case will be.

The Court will also address the issue of bail. Technically, the Court has the authority to set a bail to ensure that you return to court. If this is your first offense, and there’s no reason to believe you won’t come back, then he’s release you “on your own recognizance” meaning, you are free to go. However, if you have a criminal history or are from out of town, some judges may set a bail which must be posted before you can be released.

You should make certain to talk to your attorney prior to your arraignment to see if bail is likely. If bail is set, you or someone else will be required to post it at the Courthouse with the Court Clerk or the Jail, but this procedure varies by Court and County.

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