Trying to contest your DUI? There are a few easy ways to avoid receiving the maximum charge.
Why doesn’t everyone take these simple steps? Because they don’t do their research. By reading this blog post right now, you’ll be more prepared for your DUI court appearance than most people I talk to. Good job!
But don’t pat yourself on the back quite yet. Read through the process of appearing at court. At the bottom, I’ve included a tip that will keep you out of jail until you can do what you need to do to build a case.
At the Judnich Law Office we often consult with potential clients that would rather flee the country than appear before the court on a DUI charge. The good news is, with a little knowledge and excellent legal representation, you can ease your anxiety.
Where to Go For Your DUI Court Appearance
If you have never been accused of a crime before, being thrown into jail can be a scary experience. Hang in there.
After you have bailed out of jail, you will have an initial Court appearance before either the Municipal Court Magistrate or the Justice Court Justice of the Peace. You typically have to report to the court within a couple of days of being arrested.
All cases – whether felonies or misdemeanors, appear before these judges. Be sure you understand the difference between these courts, as they are in different buildings.
- If you were arrested by the Montana Highway Patrol or the Missoula County Sheriff – you will be appearing in Justice Court in Montana. In Missoula, the Missoula Justice Court is on the main floor of the Missoula County Courthouse at 200 W Broadway St., Missoula, MT. These courtrooms were just remodeled, so they are easy to find and there are only two Departments for Justice Court, so just check in with the Clerk. If you were arrested for a 4th or subsequent Felony DUI in Montana, that is a felony. You will also make your initial appearance before the Justice Court regardless of what law enforcement agency arrested you, then later be transferred to District Court.
- If you were arrested by the Missoula Police Department, then you will appear before the Missoula Municipal Court, commonly referred to as “City Court.” The Municipal Court is located at 435 Ryman Street in Missoula.
The two courthouses are very close to each other, but you must appear on time for your court appearance at the correct one.
What to Expect During Your DUI Court Appearance
(And How to Avoid a Maximum Sentence)
When you appear for Court the first time, that is called your initial appearance or Arraignment. You will likely be in a courtroom full of other people who have been arrested as well and are doing the same thing you are. Take some time to watch what the judge is saying to the other people when they talk – as you will probably get the same questions.
The procedure at an Arraignment is this:
- The judge calls your name, and you will walk to a podium right in front of the judge.
- The judge verifies that you are the person they called and that your name and address are correct in their file.
- The judge will read you the charges against you as well as the maximum possible sentence you could receive from those charges.
- The judge will ask if you have an attorney at that time or if you need some time to obtain one.
- The judge will then ask you for your plea – Guilty or Not Guilty to the charges.
- The judge will go over your bail conditions. Your monetary bail amount will likely stay the same, but the judge could add or remove any conditions of bail.
The above list of items is covered by the judge at the arraignment. Different judges may add a few other minor issues, but overall that is what you can expect.
Here’s the tip that will significantly increase your chances of getting a reduced plea. Are you ready for it?
Always, always plead ‘Not Guilty’ to your charges, and always refer to the Judge as “your honor”. Don’t wear a hat in Court, and dress like you are going to church.
If you plead Guilty at the Arraignment – that is it your criminal case will be over that day.
You will be sentence by the judge right there. You will not have any opportunity to weigh the evidence against you or put on a defense to the charges.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to withdraw that guilty plea at a later time. If you plead guilty at Arraignment, you may be sent to jail right there, as a first time DUI charge carries a mandatory minimum 24 hour jail sentence. Depending on your criminal and substance abuse history, you could receive more jail time than the minimum 24 hours.
Pleading ‘Not Guilty’ gives you time to discuss your case with an attorney. A good attorney will help you weigh the evidence to see if you can fight the charge or receive a plea agreement to a lesser charge. You can always decide to plead guilty later, but pleading Not Guilty at the Arraignment is the only way to buy yourself some time.
If you plead Not Guilty, you will be released to go home after court. Your actual court time in front of the judge will range from 2-10 minutes.
Having an attorney by your side will help ensure your protection. An attorney can make sure that the only thing you have to say at your Arraignment is, “Not guilty.”
Marty is a former criminal prosecutor in the Cascade County Attorney’s Office and now uses that experience to defend those accused of crimes. A University of Montana School of Law graduate, Marty focuses his practice on personal injury and criminal defense and is a premier DUI defense attorney. He is also well versed in the insurance claims industry and has negotiated significant settlements with nearly every major insurance company.