Your first DUI court appearance in Massachusetts, as in any other state, is the arraignment. This is simply a time to read the charges against you and determine how you would like to plead in your case: Guilty or Not Guilty. Typically, the court will automatically enter a Not Guilty plea on the arraignment date.
That might seem like a big decision. If this is your first DUI offense (or OUI in Massachusetts), this might even be the first court appearance you’ve ever experienced. Don’t be worried. This event is often seen as something of a formality, and no final determinations or sentencing are intended to occur during the Massachusetts arraignment procedure. Defendants assert their right to a trial by pleading Not Guilty, and the case moves forward.
Here are a few common questions folks will ask—and the things they should know—to prepare for their first DUI court appearance at the arraignment:
What Do I Do Before My First DUI Court Appearance?
- First, get an attorney, if possible, to talk you through the process and advise you on what to do. It isn’t always possible to find the right attorney before the arraignment, but this is no reason to panic. The event itself is relatively straightforward if you know what to expect.
- Second, plan on staying 3 or more hours. A crowded court may cause delays, so it could take a while before the judge gets to your case. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t miss the moment when your case is called.
- It’s also good to have all of your materials ready. This includes any papers relevant to the arrest, citations, or correspondences you’ve had with the court. The court will not expect payment of any fees on the arraignment day unless bail is required.
What Happens At an Arraignment?
- A court officer will direct you to a place for defendants to stand (often at a microphone).
- The charges will be read to you, and the possible penalties explained.
- You’ll be advised of your rights: to have a trial, to have a trial by jury, and to counsel (legal representation). If you can’t afford an attorney, the judge will appoint you a public defender.
- You’ll be asked how you want to plead, but the common practice for the courts is for the judge/clerk to automatically enter a plea of Not Guilty:
— Not Guilty means you want to have a trial to determine whether the charges are true.
— Guilty means the charges are true, you admit committing OUI, and you’re willing to be sentenced for it.
- A pre-trial conference date will be set (your next first DUI court appearance). That’s it!
What Plea Should I Enter During the Arraignment Process?
We advise our clients to plead “Not Guilty.”
Your attorney will understand your situation the best, but generally speaking, there’s little reason to enter any plea other than “Not Guilty” at the arraignment—even if you remember having some drinks and think you might be guilty of OUI.
It’s common to feel like entering a plea of “Not Guilty” would be untruthful or wrong. Rest assured, the system is working the way it is intended when the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. You are never committing perjury or being dishonest with the court by pleading “Not Guilty” to criminal charges.
During the arraignment process, the facts haven’t all been laid out, you haven’t been able to study the full police report, and you are (likely) not an expert in OUI law. A plea of “Not Guilty” simply means you don’t have the information you need to make an educated decision about waiving your constitutional rights to have a trial and confront witnesses. In fact, when someone does try to admit to charges at the arraignment, many judges will advise them to pause, take some time, and speak to an attorney before they commit to a “Guilty” plea—it’s in your own best interest.
Don’t hesitate to find legal representation for your Massachusetts arraignment process and first DUI court appearance. Contact an experienced Massachusetts OUI attorney so that they can begin to examine the facts of your case today!