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 or not guilty. If you do not appear the court can issue a warrant for your arrest. The failure to appear warrant may have a “no bond” provision meaning 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.
Going to Court on the DUI Case
On the day of your arraignment, you will sit in the courtroom that is completely packed. The judge will take the bench and spend some time explaining all the rights that 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 who are 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.
Entering a Plea at Arraignment
The court moves very quickly, calling up each individual and asking them how they plea. 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 the public defender’s office. 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 in Tampa, FL, 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 later, 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 to 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).
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 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 that enter a “guilty” or “no contest” plea, the court will make sure they signed 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 and 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 facts in the case that are favorable 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 that they want to say.
What a DUI Defense Attorney Can Do
For those individuals that have retained a private attorney prior to arraignment, they 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 individuals 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 informs 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 attacking any legal deficiency in the charging document, and requires the prosecutor to provide additional information about how the offense occurred or 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, and supplemental reports, crash reports, driving record, etc. Most importantly, your attorney can obtain any video tape evidence of how you looked on the roadside prior to the arrest, and how you looked at central booking when you were asked to take the breath test. If the State has lost, destroyed, or failed to preserve any of 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. It is important to act quickly after a DUI arrest 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 request 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 prior to arraignment will also help to insure that you do not waive any important rights such as the right to content 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, then ask the court to appoint a public defender to represent you. Proceeding without any legal representation is often a risky proposition that can have life changing consequences.