If you’ve been charged with a DWI or a related offense, the first thing you’re going to have to worry about is the arraignment. This is your first court appearance. It includes the reading of the charges against you, suspension of your driver’s license (in most cases), and your attorney entering a “not guilty” plea on your behalf.
For many DWI defendants, this is the first time they have ever experienced an arraignment. No one ever intends to get charged with a DWI offense. In this situation, it’s a good idea to get an attorney on your side who knows what to expect and understands how to fight (and beat) a DWI charge. Let’s take a closer look at the process of the arraignment:
What is the Arraignment Process?
When you make your first court appearance on a DWI, whether you are held by the police to see a judge, or released on a desk appearance ticket, the process is the same.
- The judge will ask if you have an attorney, and, if not, can you afford an attorney? If you can’t afford one, and qualify for assignment of counsel, you will be assigned an attorney.
- Your attorney will get a copy of the charges and your RAP sheet.
- If you have an attorney representing you, they will waive a reading of the charges, meaning that the judge won’t need to read the charges to you in open court.
- If the charge is a misdemeanor charge, your attorney will enter a plea of not guilty on your behalf. If the charge is a felony, the court does not have jurisdiction to take a plea of not guilty.
- The DA may serve upon the court any statements made by you, and out-of-court identifications that they intend to use against you at trial, which they have to serve within 15 days of your arraignment.
- The judge will suspend your driver’s license (NYS licensed drivers) or your privilege to drive in NY State (license from another state). The way the judge suspends your license will depend on what you are accused of …
- Alcohol DWAI (BAC .05-.07): no suspension
- Standard DWI: suspension pending prosecution – hardship possibility
- Refusal DWI: suspension pending DMV refusal hearing (within 15 days of arraignment) – no hardship possibility
- Drug DWAI: Can’t suspend without a lab report, unless judge suspends pursuant to VTL 510.30 – that you are a danger to other drivers based upon the circumstances
- Your attorney may, or may not, be able to ask for a hardship hearing (not in refusal cases) if you can demonstrate that the loss of your license will cause an extreme hardship for you in getting to work, school or medical appointments.
- The judge will ask for an alcohol or drug evaluation (OASAS evaluation) and can order that the evaluation be done through a monitoring agency (TASC). If you have an attorney prior to your first court appearance, they can set up an evaluation at a private OASAS provider.
- The judge will determine your bail status. Your release or the amount of bail that will need to be set will depend on: your prior criminal record, your prior warrant record, where you live, whether you are employed, family ties to the area, and the circumstances of the case.
- The case will be adjourned for a few weeks in order for your DWI attorney to try to negotiate with the DA, review the evidence, and for you to get the OASAS evaluation.
Should You Plead Guilty?
If you’re facing DWI charges, you may think you should go ahead and plead guilty because you think you’re guilty and you think the case against you is open and shut. Criminal law isn’t that simple. If you plead “not guilty” to a DWI misdemeanor, the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. That’s a heavy burden of proof for the prosecution.
Someone charged with a DWI might also consider simply pleading guilty because he or she wants to avoid the expense of hiring an attorney. This is a bad idea because in the long term a DWI conviction can be much more expensive than any attorney fees.
A typical first-time DWI conviction in New York can lead to fines and surcharges amounting to at least $900, not including any potential license reinstatement expenses or fees for drunk driver’s education programs. Then there is the fact that a DWI conviction will lead to a spike in your auto insurance premiums — not to mention the fact that a conviction on your criminal record can lead to career issues and a long-term drop in earning potential.
The point here is that it’s worthwhile to fight a DWI charge if it’s at all possible to do so. A skilled attorney will be able to tell you whether your charge can be fought.
How Can an Attorney Help You?
The right attorney will be able to let you know whether you have a good case before the arraignment occurs. An experienced DWI attorney can also evaluate the circumstances of the case to determine if you qualify to keep your license and continue driving under a hardship privilege, which needs to be prepared for prior to the arraignment date. They will be able to guide you through the whole process and give you the best possible chance to beat the charges against you or to get the charge reduced to a non-criminal offense.
The right attorney will be able to tell you what to say and what not to say in court. Some things you might want to say in court simply to explain what happened, but these innocent comments are recorded and can be used against you in the case. The right DWI attorney will help you avoid incriminating yourself and give you the best chance to win your case.
Since 2014, the Law Office of Michael D. Litman has been representing the criminal defense needs of the citizens of White Plains, Westchester County, and the New York Metro area. With attorney Michael Litman defending his clients since 2007, we have the knowledge and the experience to help with all your DWI charges. If you have questions or need to set up a consultation, contact us online or call us today. Our firm will work with you from the arraignment all the way through the trial.