In my role as a Detroit area DUI lawyer, everyone that comes to my office to hire me has either already been arraigned for a Michigan Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) charge, or is awaiting their arraignment date. This article will try and explain the meaning of an "arraignment," as well as what's involved. Before we get to that, it might first help to clarify a few terms. In Michigan, a drunk driving charge is technically called "Operating While Intoxicated." The correct abbreviation for that is "OWI." Even so, just about everyone in the world refers to a drunk driving charge as a "DUI," which is short for "driving under the influence." To be clear, there is no such legal charge in Michigan as a DUI, but since everyone just calls it that, there's no point in being different. As the old saying goes, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
I have often referred to a DUI charge as "an accident of geography." While it's probably the same everywhere, I know, from more than 20 years as a Michigan DUI lawyer, that where a case occurs is very often the single biggest factor in how things will play out. Since my DUI practice is exclusive to Metropolitan Detroit Tri-County area, meaning Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, I know, for example, how very different a Rochester DUI will be from a New Baltimore DUI. Location matters. Shelby Township may only be 11 miles away from Troy in terms of measurable distance, but they are worlds apart in the how each treats a person facing a DUI. Beyond the fact that certain cities are just plain tougher than others, every court in the Metropolitan Detroit area has its own way of doing things, and these differences begin showing up right after, and in some cases, even before you're let out of jail following your arrest.
Sometimes, you will be arraigned even before your initial release from jail. We'll come back to this, but if this has already happened to you, then while you may not fully recall nor understand what went on, you at least have a general ideal of what an "arraignment" is all about. If you have not yet been arraigned, or, in retrospect, it all happened so fast that you don't have any real understanding of what took place, it will be helpful to explain what an arraignment is all about. While a thorough examination of this subject could fill a textbook, my goal here is to at least make clear the purpose and reality of an arraignment in a Michigan DUI case as it happens in real life, and as it happens in the courts of the Metro Detroit area.
An arraignment is the formal beginning of a criminal case. At an arraignment, the person who has been arrested for a is formally charged with an offense, and, as a result of being "charged," becomes a "defendant." Being a defendant means that you have to "defend" against the charge made against you. Thus, being arrested for a DUI doesn't really begin the criminal case, but being arraigned after the arrest does. To put it another way, until there has been an arraignment, there is no actual case.
While there's actually a lot to the arraignment stage in a DUI case, the arraignment itself serves three primary purposes. We'll look at each of these purposes in turn, covering the first and second purposes in part 1 of this two-part article, while we'll examine the third purpose in part 2.
The first purpose of an arraignment is to inform the person exactly what charge is being made against him or her. In a Michigan DUI case, a person will likely be charged with "Operating While Intoxicated," or "Operating While Intoxicated with a high BAC," or "Operating While Intoxicated - 2nd Offense," or even "Operating While Intoxicated - 3rd Offense," which is a felony.
While this may seem almost too obvious, imagine a person who is found passed out and drunk behind the wheel. The next morning, at his or her arraignment, the Judge or Magistrate informs the person that he or she is being charged with "Operating While Intoxicated" (usually, no one will tell a 1st time offender that he or she is being charged with a "1st offense" because that's just a given). Suddenly, our Defendant, Danny the Driver, wonders, "huh?" Danny doesn't remember anything about leaving the bar last night and has no recollection of ever driving, much less being pulled over or arrested.
Thus, the first order of business is to inform the defendant of exactly what charge or charges he or she will have to defend against.
In addition, the Judge or Magistrate must advise the person of the possible penalties carried by each and every offense with which he or she is charged. Thus, Danny the Driver, who is being charged with a first offense DUI (which we have clarified as being technically called "Operating While Intoxicated," or OWI), will be addressed as follows:
"Mr. Driver, you are being charged with the offense of Operating While Intoxicated. This is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 93 days in jail and a fine of up to $500, plus costs. In addition, the Secretary of State can suspend your driver's license and impose driver responsibility fees. It is alleged that on January 3, 2015, you operated a motor vehicle in the city of Gotham while you were intoxicated. Do you understand the charge?"
Danny replies "Yes, your honor"
And how do you plead?
Danny should respond "Not guilty."
Some Judges and Magistrates will simply not accept a "guilty" plea at the arraignment stage because they know that a skilled DUI lawyer can really help with getting the charge dismissed or reduced. That, of course, can have a profound difference for the rest of your life. That's a rather nice thing to do, but not every Judge is so concerned. Regardless, and you can take advice to the bank, a person should NEVER plead guilty at an arraignment.
A second and equally purpose of the arraignment in a DUI case (or any criminal case, for that matter) is for the Judge or Magistrate to set a bond. A bond is the amount of money you must post to get out of jail, or at least to stay out of jail. The purpose of bond is to take enough money to assure that you return to court and don't skip out. Again, this is a topic about which I could write a textbook, but the reality is that in a Detroit area DUI case, bond usually ranges from $0 (meaning no money) to about $500. Sometimes, if a person has a prior record, or winds up in a particularly expensive court, the bond can be as high as $750 or even $1000, but that's not typical. Many of my clients were released from jail, regardless of whether or not they were arraigned first, after posting a bond of between $100 and $500. Some weren't required to post any money. To be clear then, a person can be required to post a bond with the police in order to be released from jail without ever being arraigned. If a person can't afford to pay the bond amount, they'll often call a bail bonding agency.
Perhaps more important than the amount of bond are the "conditions" of bond imposed by the Judge or Magistrate if a person is actually arraigned. "Conditions" are things the Judge or Magistrate specifically orders you to do, or not to do. In a DUI, typical conditions are no use of drugs or alcohol and no leaving the state without permission of the court. It is also increasingly common to be required to "test" for alcohol a certain number of times per week or month as a condition of bond.
In part 2 of this article, we'll pick up by covering the third major purpose of an arraignment, and then we'll examine how it is sometimes possible to skip this whole part of the DUI court process.