Common Questions About How Municipal Courts Deal with DWI Cases
When I am first contacted by a new DWI client, many of the questions he or she may have pertain to how the municipal court handles the case. Do I have to go to my first court date? How long will the case take? Do I have to go and get the police report? Will the judge ask me any questions?
This post will hopefully shed some light on how most municipal courts will handle the matter. I say most because not every court is the same. I have been in hundreds of municipal courts throughout the state and they all do it a little differently.
DWI First Appearance Date
I good starting point is the DWI ticket. If you look at that ticket you will see towards the bottom of the summons a first appearance date listed. This is your first court date and it is a required appearance. The only exception would be if you hire an attorney and the court allows your lawyer to enter your not guilty plea via your lawyer’s letter of representation. Some courts allow for this and it saves you hours of inconvenience. If you don’t have a lawyer, or the court does not waive the first appearance with your attorney, then you must appear. I would strongly suggest contacting the court to verify the first appearance date. Municipal Courts are famous for saying one thing and doing another.
If you don’t have a lawyer, you will go to your first date and probable wait and wait and wait (if you have one, the waiting is reduced dramatically). When you get to the court, you may or may not have to check in. This could happen in the court or at the violations window, depends on the court.
Once you are in court, you will wait for the judge to call your case. What should happen is this: The judge will call you up. He or she will tell you what you have been charged with and may explain the enhanced penalties if you are facing a second or third offense. The court does not know if you have been previously convicted, the judge just explains the penalties. After this the court will ask you if you plead guilty or not guilty. Remember, no one has every one a case or had a chance to win a case by pleading guilty at the first court date. Neither will you. You don’t know what your defenses are or may be. Don’t plead guilty.
The next question will be “do you want to hire a lawyer or apply for a public defender?” You will not get a public defender unless you qualify financially. This means you will have to fill out a form that lists all of your financial information and the judge will make a determination as to whether you qualify. If you hire private counsel, like me, you will want a lawyer who knows how to win DWI cases. I am one of a few lawyers in the State who has the sort of qualifications you will want…certified in the administration of the field sobriety tests by NHTSA, certified by Drager in the Alcotest instrument maintenance and procedure, trial victories, etc.
Once you plead not guilty you will get a new court date, typically about thirty days out.
Timeline for DWI Trial or Resolution
DWI cases are supposed to be resolved in 60 days. The courts use this timeline according to how the case is going. If the State is having a hard time getting its act together, the timeline seems to more flexible than if the defendant is lagging. Regardless, this is just a guideline and not a bright-line rule.
From the time that you hire a lawyer or receive a public defender, the discovery process begins. Your lawyer gets the discovery, not you. This includes the police reports. This is where it really pays to have private counsel in my opinion. The discovery process in a DWI case is really important. Many cases are won or lost during this time. Obtaining all the discovery, including reports, certifications, videos, audio recordings etc., can take lots of time. More importantly, if the state does not provide it or parts of it there are rules in place that an experienced attorney can use to move for a dismissal or for a suppression of important pieces of evidence, like the Alcotest reading.
There may be one or many, it depends on the course the case takes. Missing discovery, motions and other issues may result in multiple pre-trial conferences. If your attorney is able to reach a resolution that is beneficial to you, your case could be resolved at a pre-trial conference by why of plea. Technically, there is no plea bargaining DWI’s. The only way you get a “deal” is if your lawyer presents a valid defense to the prosecutor and the prosecutor says to the judge “defense counsel may be right about this” which is different from saying he is right. A deal may come in many forms, too many to list here. You can contact me if you need clarification.
If no deal can be struck or no deal is offered, then trial may well result. For example, Gary blew a .16 BAC on the Alcotest. This is his first offense so the penalties included, inter alia, between 7 months and 1 year loss of license, mandatory ignition interlock, fines, fees, surcharges. If the prosecutor is unwilling to move off of that, then in most cases, I would go to trial. If the prosecutor says that he will consider recommending that the reading should be suppressed, well maybe we can start to have a discussion.
A DWI trial can last 2 hours, 2 days or more. There is no jury. The judge is the jury. He will decide the case. At trial, it happens just like T.V. The cops take the stand and testify, and we break them down. Trial go last at the municipal court. For example, on your trial day you will likely arrive in court at 9 am and the trial will start at noon.
Not every case goes to trial, In fact many do resolve before and frequently favorably so for my clients. But you have to be able to hold that hammer. The prosecutor has to know that your lawyer has no problems going to trial and that it’s not going to be a fun day.
What to do Next?
I would suggest that a lawyer who does this for a living is a good place to start. Either get busy living or get busy dying. This is no time to lament the alleged mistake you think you may have made. Its time to put on the gloves and get to work .