A DWI arrest can be the start of a long, confusing process, the results of which may follow you for the rest of your life. If it is your first experience in the back of a police cruiser, you may have many questions and concerns, including wondering what will happen next. Police will probably drive you to the station, where they will administer a breath test. If the test shows your blood alcohol concentration is .08 or higher, they will likely charge you with DWI.
The next step is your arraignment. This is not a trial, but you are still the defendant, which means you are now defending yourself against the charges the judge will read to you. You have the right to legal counsel at any time after your arrest, and the judge may even urge you to consult with an attorney about the most appropriate way to proceed.
Appearing before the judge
When you arrive at the courthouse for your arraignment, the judge will read aloud the details of the charges the state has filed against you. It may be difficult to hear yourself accused of these offenses. The judge will then ask how you plead. You have three choices:
- Plead guilty to the charges.
- Plead not guilty.
- Plead “nolo contendere,” which means you do not plead guilty, but you accept the conviction for the charges.
- Exercise your right to remain silent and say nothing.
If you plead guilty, there will still be a hearing so the judge can review the evidence to see if it supports your guilt. The judge will also consider other circumstances along with your background and criminal history before imposing a sentence on you. If you do not enter a plea, the judge will plead “not guilty” for you, and your case will go to trial.
Bail and trial
Your trial will not happen right away, so the judge at your arraignment will decide whether you will remain in jail or pay bail for your release until trial or sentencing. You should receive notice of the date of your trial at some point in the future. Most certainly, you will also have administrative matters to deal with during that time, concerning your license suspension.
Of course, a lot depends on the circumstances. The court will likely handle a simple, first-offense DWI very differently from a DWI accident involving injuries or previous convictions. These factors will also affect your bail amount and sentencing if you plead guilty or receive a conviction.