The DUI Arraignment: Standing Before a Judge

by Aaron M. Black • April 06, 2023

This is the third of a six-part series explaining a DUI case and the DUI process from the arrest to beginning a new life.
The purpose of a DUI arraignment is the first formal hearing in misdemeanor and felony criminal cases taking place after the arrest on suspicion of impaired driving. Arraignments usually happen within 24 hours of the arrest, and this is the first time a defendant will face a judge to enter a plea.

Inside of an empty court room hearing

For a Class 1 misdemeanor offense, the defendant is promptly informed of the charge and advised of his or her constitutional rights at an initial appearance in Justice Court, but the person does not respond to the charges in that setting. That happens during an arraignment in municipal court.

If the DUI charge is a felony charge, the arraignment is not held at the first court appearance.

At the arraignment, if the defendant does not have or cannot afford legal representation, you will be assigned a court-appointed attorney, usually from the Public Defender’s Office, unless the case has a conflict of interest with that office.

DUI arraignments are the time when someone who is accused of a DUI needs to seek the help of an attorney.


Entering a plea at DUI arraignments

At the arraignment, the judge reads the criminal charges the defendant is facing, asks how the defendant pleads and informs the defendant of the constitutional rights, including the right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment.

The judge is forbidden from considering any evidence of innocence or guilt at the arraignment stage of the legal process.

During the arraignment, the defendant is told what charges are levied and must enter a plea.

Three options are available, not guilty, no contest, or guilty – but the latter choice is premature and is not a desirable choice.

While a plea of guilty and not guilty are self-explanatory, pleading no contest is more complex. It means the defendant is not disputing the charge, but that is not an admission of guilt. This plea can be useful in defending against civil litigation that is related to the DUI charge.

In pleading no contest, the defendant waives the right to a trial. This plea can be useful for negotiating a plea bargain to reduce crowded court calendars and change the offense to a less serious crime.

Plea bargains

Plea bargains in Arizona DUI cases are when the defendant or the defendant's lawyer, negotiates or pleads with the prosecutor or district attorney, not the judge, to reduce the States original DUI charges to something less serious. Essentially a compromise offered by the prosecutor where you plead guilty to a lesser charge, reducing the sentence and/or fines, and avoiding going to a jury trial.

Plea Bargain - Avoiding a Jury Trial

Possible plea bargains are, for example, if the BAC level (Blood Alcohol Concentration) is 0.08 percent, and it's a first offense, your individual case may be reduced to reckless driving, often called a "wet reckless." In this compromise, the defendant saves face and, avoids the stigma of a DUI conviction, jail time, and avoids suspension of their driver’s license.

In Maricopa County, Arizona in 2016, only 2.2 percent of criminal cases went to trial. So while it is up to the judge whether or not to accept a plea bargain, they often do.

You will have the most success getting a plea bargain if there are weaknesses in the prosecution's case, such as insufficient evidence, or if there are compelling mitigating circumstances. For example, issues surrounding probable cause, the day of arrest, time of their arrest, facts of your case, and jurisdiction of the law enforcement arresting officer or police officer all come into play.

Be aware that any plea deal reached at your arraignment will likely be canceled if you change your plea to a not-guilty plea.

Your DUI lawyer will help you choose the right options for your case and situation and ensure you understand the potential consequences of a guilty plea.

The issue of bail

At the arraignment, a hearing is held to determine if bail is possible and, if so set the bail amount and conditions of release. The prosecution argues for the amount the state wants to protect the public, and the defense wants a lower amount or no bail so the defendant does not miss time from work.

DUI defendant getting out of jail on bail

Several factors are considered in determining the monetary amount of bail or release without posting bail. The court considers these factors in making the decision:
  • Any prior criminal record, especially felony charges or the lack of previous criminal history
  • Previous failures to appear at scheduled court proceedings
  • Ties to the local community
  • Staying away from certain places
  • Obeying all laws
  • No drug or alcohol consumption (if the offense is related to those stimulants)
  • Cannot leave Arizona
  • Keeping a job or seeking employment
  • No contact with certain people, including witnesses
  • Possessing firearms and other weapons
  • Disobeying curfews set by the court

Defendants who do not honor the conditions of bail will result in revoking the bail bond, and the defendant will forfeit the amount of money or property used for posting bail.

In some cases, the defendant can be released on their “own recognizance” without posting bail and instead makes a written promise to be in court for the preliminary hearing.

Setting the preliminary hearing

The last step in the arraignment is for the court to schedule the preliminary hearing if charged with a felony, which will determine if the prosecution has sufficient evidence to take the case to trial. If so, both sides must agree on the proposed court date to begin the trial.

Note that the preliminary hearing is not the place for the defendant's attorney to present evidence.

Gavel & DUI Law Sign

Aaron M. Black Law defending your legal rights

Should you or someone you care for be charged or are under investigation for a DUI, it is imperative that you have an experienced DUI defense attorney such as myself to defend you at the earliest possible time. The attorney you choose may be one of the most important decisions in your life.

In my long career as an aggressive DUI attorney, I know that good people can find themselves in legal trouble, and that is why I ensure they have the best defense possible, influencing the outcome of your case with the goal of having charges dismissed, or reduced and avoiding jail time.

Aaron M. Black Law provides personalized legal services. You will always be talking directly to me at every stage of your DUI case.

Defend your DUI charges immediately by calling 480-729-1683 at any time on any day, and I will respond promptly unless I am in a court hearing or in a trial. Or use the online contact form on my website.

I defend misdemeanor and felony DUI cases throughout Arizona, including Maricopa, Pinal, Yavapai, and Coconino County Superior Courts.

Other blog posts about the DUI process...

Previous: The DUI Arrest -  How to choose a DUI attorney  -  Next: Arizona DUI Sentencing and Judicial Discretion in DUI Cases.

About the Author

Aaron Black Phoenix DUI LawyerAaron Black is the founder and sole attorney of the Law Office of Aaron Black. Located in Phoenix, Arizona, his DUI and criminal defense law firm provides legal services to people who have received felony or misdemeanor charges from the state.

Aaron has developed a strong interest in defending people who have been arrested and received criminal charges for driving under the influence. With his professionalism and knowledge of Arizona DUI and criminal law, he has acted as a check and balance on the police, prosecution and courts and has protected a great number of his clients from excessive and unfair sentencing.

Along with DUI defense, Aaron handles a range of other criminal defense matters, including aggravated assault, burglary, domestic violence, drug possession, drug trafficking, fraud defense, insurance fraud, sex crimes, and white-collar crime cases.

After graduating college in 2003 from the University of Arizona, Aaron decided to pursue a law degree. He followed a family long tradition and went to the University of South Dakota School of Law where he pursued his goal of becoming a criminal defense lawyer.

After passing the Arizona and South Dakota bar exams, Aaron joined the Maricopa County Office of the Public Defender where he defended hundreds of people charged with serious criminal offenses. His work as a public defender helped him sharpen his litigation skills and gave him a unique insight into the Arizona criminal justice system.

Over the course of his 15-year legal career, Aaron has spent a considerable amount of time in both Arizona justice, municipal, state and federal courts. He has argued over 50 jury trials, tried over 100 bench trials and has become one of the highest-rated criminal and DUI defense attorneys in Phoenix and the surrounding areas. He has received a 10/10 rating from the legal directory Avvo because of his legal background and successful case record. Since 2014, he has received the Super Lawyer rating for his work as a Phoenix DUI Attorney and criminal defense attorney.

You can review Aaron’s Attorney Bio page for more information about his background, education and experience as a Phoenix DUI and criminal defense attorney.
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