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When Is Your First Court Appearance After a DWI Arrest?

There’s something called a first appearance or arraignment that the driver has to show up at following the release by the police. With most courts, the person’s going to have to show in court within two days to two weeks following the arrest. In some situations, the person has to show up in court the next day or even the day of the release.

The Right to Counsel, Charges and Potential Penalties Will Be Explained During the First Appearance

The first appearance or preliminary arraignment is a court hearing where the judge informs the accused individual of the charges and the potential penalties as well as that person’s right to have a trial and have an attorney. The judge, in a DWI case, will always give the driver an opportunity to have time to find an attorney. A person who cannot afford a private attorney can have a public defender appointed to them or the person can represent himself.

Will You Enter a Guilty or Not Guilty Plea during the First Appearance?

Interviewer: So what happens during this preliminary arraignment? You just have to plead guilty or not guilty?

Kevin: That’s right. A person can enter a plea of guilty at a preliminary arraignment; however, some judges won’t even accept a guilty plea at the preliminary arraignment until that person has an attorney. It’s strange because the driver has a right to represent himself and enter a plea of guilty without an attorney, but I’ve heard of occasions where judges will not accept a guilty plea without the driver having a lawyer.

And sometimes judges will simply enter a plea of not guilty reflexively for somebody charged with a DWI. They don’t even give the driver an opportunity to enter the plea. The judges on their own enter the plea of not guilty, and tell them to get an attorney, and set a new court date.

The Purpose of the First Appearance Is to Provide Defendants with Their Right to Due Process

Interviewer: So what’s the point of the hearing, then if most of the time the person doesn’t even have a say in their plea?

Kevin: Well, the point of the hearing is to inform of the person of the charges, penalties, and their rights. That’s the pure purpose of a preliminary arraignment.

If the person wasn’t preliminary arraigned and if the person’s unaware of his rights or what he’s being charged with then the person is being denied due process under the law.

The preliminary arraignment is divided into stages where the person is informed of his rights, the charges against him, and the potential penalties he faces. This gives him the opportunity to start working on getting an attorney and creating a defense to the charge.

Otherwise, it would be a surreal, Kafkaesque situation where you’re brought to trial without knowing what you’re being charged with and then asked to defend yourself.

When Should You Retain an Attorney to Defend against a DWI Charge?

Interviewer: After you’re advised of your rights at the preliminary arraignment, what happens next?

Kevin: You’ll then be assigned a new court date and have that opportunity to find an attorney. Usually, you’re going to receive seven days to find the attorney and then the attorney would have to send a letter stating that he or she is going to appear in the driver’s case. Typically, the lawyer is going to ask for a postponement of the next court hearing in order to obtain discovery.

New Jersey DWI Info Guide

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