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What is the process for Misdemeanor DUI cases in Pima County Justice Court? Part 1 of 3 parts

Many, if not most, people experience great anxiety about what is going to happen to them in Court after they are arrested for a misdemeanor DUI in Arizona. This is perfectly understandable. Part of this anxiety is caused by the fear of the unknown. I hope my description of the process alleviates some of that anxiety and fear by providing you with some basic knowledge and insight.  What I am describing here is the process for a misdemeanor DUI/DWI case after the arrest stage. Felony or Aggravated DUIs are NOT discussed in this article. More specifically I will describe what happens in the Pima County Consolidated Justice Court at the Criminal Arraignment and weeks and months to follow.  Every Court of Limited Jurisdiction or “Misdemeanor Court”,  handles things slightly differently in Arizona.  I could not possibly describe everything you may encounter in Arizona.  Additionally, other attorneys may have had different experiences or have different opinions. This not meant as legal advice on your case. It is just a general description of the court process.  Additionally, because many of you are facing your first criminal charge, I also give a few tips on how to act appropriately in the courtroom.  I am offering tips not a lecture.  It is important to put your best foot forward because the Court does not know you personally and as the saying goes “you only get one chance to make a first impression”. Remember, like in any other criminal case you are always presumed innocent. That is the law of the land. That includes DUI charges.

  • Traffic Stop/Arrest
  • Booking/Processing. Surprisingly, a majority of those arrested for DUI in Pima County are not booked into jail on the day of arrest. Jail comes later if convicted. There are many exceptions to this rule of thumb and every case is different. For example the person may have outstanding warrants or the law enforcement officer just decides to book the person into jail. In addition every agency has their own policies. For example, the Department of Public Safety, is much more likely to book someone into jail for a misdemeanor DUI charge. Other than that most DUI arrests end with a signed promise to appear in court at a later date.
  • Criminal Arraignment: What to wear and how to act.
    • Behavior: Do not talk about the facts of the case to anyone besides your lawyer. Do not try to explain anything to the prosecutor or judge at the arraignment. Be on your best behavior. Do not talk or laugh loudly. Shut off your cell phone completely. Take off your hats and any head covering such as bandanas. Sit up straight and do not fall asleep. Be very polite and respectful to the prosecutor, judge, and all court staff. You should also treat everyone you encounter at the courthouse with respect and courtesy including other defendants.  When speaking to the judge use “your honor” or “judge”. Answer questions with “yes” or “no” or ” I do not know”. Do not show up intoxicated or under the influence of a drug. Odors such as those that stem from a night of drinking the night before tend be very noticeable in the confined spaces of a courtroom.  The Judge and/or Court staff will often notice this and it can have negative consequences.
    • Clothes: If you are in a bind and can not afford decent “job interview” type clothes ask to borrow from a friend or family member. At the very least, wear a clean shirt and long pants/dress. The Court will notice and appreciate your efforts.
  • Criminal Arraignment: The first actual court appearance in a misdemeanor DUI case is normally your arraignment or “Criminal Arraignment”. This date is usually a matter of weeks  after your misdemeanor DUI/DWI arrest. It is very important that you show up on time and dress appropriately. At the arraignment the judge will advise you of the charges the state has brought. They also advise you of your rights such as the right to counsel, right to plead not guilty and request a trial.   The judge normally automatically enters a plea of not guilty on your behalf at this stage.  If you honestly can not afford an attorney  you will have to fill out a sworn financial affidavit demonstrating to the court that you do not have the financial means to hire a lawyer on your own. This is a relatively quick and easy process. If the judge agrees with your assessment and determines you are eligible for a court appointed attorney, you will be appointed an attorney by the judge. In the Pima County Justice Court, the attorney is  chosen by the Judge from a list of qualified private attorneys willing to accept appointments from the court. If you are in Tucson City Court you would normally be assigned to a public defender if you meet the financial requirements. The defense attorneys at the Pima County Public Defender and the Pima County Legal Defender do not normally get assigned to cases in Pima County Justice Court. They are normally only assigned to cases in Pima County Superior Court. You will normally have to pay about $375 for a court appointed attorney unless the judge determines that you can not afford it.   You do not pay the appointed lawyer directly, you will pay the court directly.
  • Meet with your lawyer. Whether you are assigned an attorney or have hired your own private attorney it is absolutely vital to communicate with your attorney. He or she will be much more able to advise and assist you if you make yourself available. I recommend supplying your attorney with an email addresses where you can be reached in case something happens to your phone.  You must also let the court and your attorney know anytime your address or phone number has changed.  I recommend setting up an appointment as soon you can to discuss the case while the details are fresher in your mind. Lawyers, like all people who work long hours, are extremely busy and it may take or day or two for them to call you back. Do not get discouraged. If you do not hear from them, keep calling them and leave a message with a number where you can be reached. Also, keep in mind that your lawyer will often not been given police report or blood results right away. They must wait for the prosecutor’s office to disclose them. It could be weeks before the state discloses the police reports due to the volume of cases and realities of capacity.  Additionally, results from a blood test could take at least 3 months from the date of the arrest and blood draw. If the state is testing for drugs the wait time could be 6 months or more. Wait times for blood results will vary by jurisdiction, law enforcement agencies involved and lab capacity. You must exercise patience when dealing with the Court system. These cases do not resolve quickly in most cases. In other words you will not even know of all the misdemeanor DUI related charges until the blood results come back. In Part 2 I will explain this process in more detail. Stay Tuned.