Drinking and Driving Handcuffs and Gavel on Marble Background - dui court case concept

Preparing to appear in court for a DUI case can be stressful and overwhelming. Depending on the facts surrounding your DUI, the legal consequences can be steep — ranging from jail time, license suspension, monetary fines, probation, and a criminal record. With so much on the line, it’s essential to ensure you are adequately prepared for your first hearing. Here are several things you can do to prepare for your DUI court case:

Consult with a Knowledgeable DUI Attorney

You should contact a DUI attorney as soon as possible after you’ve been charged with drinking and driving. Importantly, this is not the time to try to handle your case on your own. An experienced DUI lawyer will be able to advise you regarding the practices of a particular court and judge so that you can be prepared for whatever might happen at the first court appearance — called the “arraignment.” They can also protect your legal rights throughout the entire DUI court process and help ensure you obtain the best possible outcome in your case.

Be Sure to Know When Your First Court Date Is

Look carefully at the DUI court paperwork you’ve been presented with. You may have a court date coming up right away that you are not aware of. Some courts, such as Seattle Municipal Court, schedule arraignments within a couple of days of the arrest. In addition, it is not uncommon for DUI arraignments to be held on a Saturday in this court. Other courts have different procedures — and the arraignment might not be until several weeks or even a month after the arrest.

Know What Happens at the Arraignment

Soon after you have been arrested, the first DUI court appearance will be held. Also referred to as an arraignment, this court appearance will typically involve a reading of the charges by the judge or prosecutor — and then you will enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty in open court. The judge will set the conditions of release at this time.

Although you have not yet been convicted of the charges against you, the judge in DUI court can order you to do things that may seem like you have already been found guilty. For instance, the judge has the power to impose an ignition interlock as a condition of driving. They can also order you not to consume alcohol and require you to wear an alcohol-sensing bracelet on your ankle (called SCRAM), which reports to the court immediately if it senses you’ve consumed any amount of alcohol. Additionally, a judge can impose a bail requirement at your first DUI court appearance, even if you posted bail to get out of jail.

Understand What to Expect During the DUI Court Process

Following the arraignment, there are a number of steps in the DUI court process — and you will be required to appear before the judge several times. During the arraignment, most DUI courts set the case for a “pretrial conference.” This will be the second time you must appear in court. Specifically, your DUI court case will include the following court appearances:

Pretrial Conference

This is a scheduling conference at which subsequent court dates are set. It also is an opportunity for defense counsel to negotiate with the prosecution. Significantly, it is not uncommon for several pretrial conferences to occur over a span of several months. While it can be hard to have a DUI court case hanging over one’s head that long, taking the time to fully prepare the case will typically lead to a better outcome.

At the pretrial conference, the arresting officer is not present and testimony is not taken. Rather, your lawyer does all the talking. You cannot be made to testify in court at any stage of the legal process, including pretrial. The only thing a judge will typically ask the accused during this time is whether you understand that a new date is being set and that you agree to it.

DUI Court Motions Hearing

The next stage in most DUI court cases is a “motions hearing,” which is scheduled after the last pretrial conference. A motions hearing is an opportunity for the defense to raise procedural or factual issues that — if successful — will lead to dismissal of the case or a ruling that some of the prosecution’s evidence cannot be used at trial.

During this stage, testimony is usually taken from the arresting officer. Your defense attorney gets to cross examine that officer in the same fashion they would at trial. If progress is made by defense counsel at the motions hearing, the prosecutor may have to reconsider the case in light of the judge’s rulings or the officer’s testimony. In the event the prosecution’s case has been weakened during the motions hearing, the prosecutor might be persuaded to reduce the charge. Prevailing at a motions hearing can also put the defense in an advantageous position for trial of the case.


At the trial stage of the DUI court process, the prosecution is required to prove the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt. The outcome of the case can be decided by either a six-person jury — or in some cases, a judge hears the evidence and renders the verdict. Generally, DUI trials take up to three days, depending upon the number of witnesses. The jury must be unanimous to render a verdict of not guilty or guilty. If the jury can’t render a unanimous verdict, a “hung jury” is declared. In these instances, the prosecution has the option to bring the case to trial again.

Sentencing and Conviction

Sentencing in a DUI court case occurs after a defendant has been found guilty, whether the finding is the result of plea negotiations or a jury verdict after a trial. In either case, at sentencing the judge decides what penalties to impose. In the case of a DUI conviction, there are certain mandatory minimum penalties that the judge is required to impose. These can include jail, a fine, conditions on probation, etc.

If sentencing occurs on a reduced charge, the judge can impose whatever sentence is deemed appropriate — for most non-DUI charges, there is no minimum sentence required. In certain cases, an “agreed recommendation” is placed before the DUI court at sentencing. This is where the prosecution and the defense agree on the appropriate sentence and jointly ask the judge to impose that sentence. An agreed sentence is usually given great weight by a judge, but a judge is not bound to follow it.

In some cases, a judge may render a ruling that the defense believes is erroneous or prejudicial. An appeal may be brought in such instances, requesting relief in the form of a new trial or dismissal.

Know What You Will Be Pleading in Your DUI Court Case

Before your first DUI court appearance, you should discuss what you will be pleading with your attorney — and ensure you have a full understanding of what your plea means. Some people wonder how they can ethically enter a plea of not guilty when the breath test or other evidence against them seems strong. But ultimately, a not guilty plea legally means “not proved.” This type of plea preserves the status quo so that your attorney can investigate all the facts, evaluate the evidence, and map out the strategy that is best in your case.

Contact a Knowledgeable Washington DUI Attorney

There are many procedural and legal nuances involved in a DUI court case. If you’ve been charged with a DUI, you don’t have to go through it alone — an experienced DUI attorney can help you navigate the process and work toward achieving a favorable outcome on your behalf. Providing adept advocacy and dedicated counsel, the Fox Law Firm PLLC has been fighting DUI charges for clients since 1985. Contact Attorney Jon Fox for a free consultation by calling (425) 584-6649.

Categories: DUI Process