| Read Time: 4 minutes | DUI

If you’ve been arrested for DUI in Virginia, you should know what to expect when you go to court for your DUI arraignment. Your choices at arraignment shape how your case proceeds through the court system. Familiarizing yourself with the DUI arraignment process before you go to court will help you make the best decisions for yourself and your family. 

You should not go to court alone. Seek the help of a highly skilled and experienced DUI charges defense lawyer for legal advice that gets results. Virginia DUI charges defense lawyer Michael Pignone and his team with the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone have the experience and tenacity you need to help you bring your case to a successful resolution. 

What Is the DUI Arraignment Process?

After your arrest, you likely posted bail to get out of jail, or you may have been released on your personal recognizance. Being released on personal recognizance simply means that, based on your history (or lack of criminal history), the judge trusts you to appear in court at a designated time without the need to post bail. When released, you probably received notice of an upcoming court date. This date is the first court hearing of your case and is called an “arraignment.”

According to the Code of Virginia, your DUI arraignment must occur in open court. You may not like having to stand up in front of a crowd of people and talk to the judge at the local courthouse, but it is part of the process. The judge will advise you of the charges against you. Depending on the facts, you might be surprised to learn that the police charged you with more than just DUI. 

The facts of your case will also determine whether you have felony or misdemeanor charges. A first offense DUI is typically a misdemeanor as long as there are no facts that warrant a felony charge—such as causing serious bodily injury in a car crash that happened while you were allegedly driving drunk. 

No matter the charges, the court will inquire whether you plan to hire an attorney or need a court-appointed lawyer. If you request a court-appointed lawyer, the judge will ask questions about your finances to determine if you qualify. The judge can appoint an attorney at a small fee or sometimes for no fee, depending on your financial situation. 

Next, the judge will ask you to enter a plea. You have three options: not guilty, guilty, or nolo contendre. 

How Should You Plead?

You might be tempted to try to resolve your case at your DUI arraignment. Even though the urge to “get it over with” might be tempting, it’s generally not a good idea to plead guilty so quickly. You should contact a skilled Virginia DUI charges attorney to go over your options before making such a big decision. Although probably not as long as you would like, you will have some time to hire an attorney before arraignment. If you don’t have time to consult an attorney prior to arraignment, you should plead “not guilty,” at least for the time being. Pleading not guilty at arraignment gives your attorney a chance to go over discovery, investigate possible defenses, and develop a defense strategy that works best for you.

On the other hand, pleading guilty at arraignment helps the prosecution a great deal. It takes the Commonwealth’s burden—to prove the case against you beyond a reasonable doubt—right off their shoulders. Entering a guilty plea means that you waive your right to a trial, to cross-examine the government’s witnesses, or to present any exonerating evidence. Additionally, pleading guilty means that you admit to all the facts as alleged by the Commonwealth. Entering a guilty plea at a DUI arraignment without a negotiated plea bargain in place means that the judge could sentence you in any manner they see fit. Depending on the chemical test results, a judge could send you to jail, revoke your driver’s license, put you on probation, impose a fine, and order you to attend a safe driving course. The judge might also order you to seek substance abuse treatment or install and pay for an interlock device on the cars you drive. Moreover, a guilty plea is a conviction and will give you a criminal record. Keep in mind that you cannot seal or expunge a guilty finding except in extraordinary circumstances. That means the conviction will always appear on future background checks. 

What Does Pleading “Nolo Contendre” Mean?

Pleading nolo contendre or no contest means you are not pleading guilty—but you do not want to contest the case. Instead, the judge will assume the facts are true, take your plea, and announce a sentence. A plea of nolo contendre and a guilty plea have essentially the same effect, except that a nolo plea might have advantages in future civil proceedings. 

Pleading no contest might help you negotiate a better resolution to your case, but it still means that you’re giving up your rights to a trial or appeal.

The type of plea you enter is ultimately your choice. To make an informed decision, you need to speak with a knowledgeable DUI charges defense attorney who can explain your options. 

The Final Stage of a DUI Arraignment: Setting the Trial Date

The judge will give you dates for your subsequent court appearances if you plead not guilty at arraignment. The court will schedule a preliminary hearing, a trial date, and deadlines for filing objections. 

The Best Defense Begins Before Your DUI Arraignment

Virginia DUI charges defense lawyer Michael Pignone and his staff from the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone have been defending people charged with DUI since 1995. They will start working on your defense before you have to go to court. 

Attorney Pignone has a reputation as a hard-hitting and aggressive DUI charges defense attorney. He has earned numerous awards, including Top 100 Lawyers Under 40, Certificate of Expertise in DUI defense, Nomination as a Super Lawyer, and membership in the Top 100 Lawyers Club from the National Trial Lawyers Association. Contact the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone today to find out how his excellent track record can help you get out of a bad situation.

Author Photo

Michael Pignone

Michael Pignone was raised and has lived in Prince William County since 1972. He attended public schools in the county and graduated high school from Osbourn High in Manassas. Following high school, he attended George Mason University where he graduated with honors from the Business School with a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance. He was then accepted into, and graduated with honors from, Suffolk Law School in Boston, Massachusetts. Before entering private practice, he clerked for the Prosecutor in the Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

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