As a Michigan criminal and DUI lawyer, I am contacted all the time by people facing something like a drunk driving, suspended license or possession of marijuana charge and are worried about the upcoming date on their citation. In this very short article, I merely want to explain what this means and help the reader understand that, for the most part, and despite what it may seem like, the date on your ticket is most often NOT any kind of fixed “court date.” This is very relevant to those who contact me after something like a DUI arrest. worried about getting an appointment right away and saying something like, “My court date is next Tuesday.” To be sure, every criminal case begins with a first court date called an arraignment. I’ve written extensively about that, and would encourage the reader interested in a detailed examination of what that proceeding is all about to read the linked articles. Here, we’ll look at arraignments in more superficial terms of its position in the larger picture of a criminal or DUI case and how it gets started.
Sometimes, a person is brought before a Judge or Magistrate for arraignment while he or she is in custody after an arrest. This can be done by video or by actually having the person come into a courtroom. If you’ve already done that, then you can skip this article entirely. For everyone else, imagine your notice to appear or instruction to otherwise contact the court (this can be on the ticket, on a separate piece of paper, like a bond receipt, or just be something the police tell you as you’re released) in the way you’d think of an email confirmation to register with a website; once you confirm your contact details, then all relevant notifications can be sent to the right place. Before you wonder what the hell that means, let’s look at one of the most common situations following an OWI arrest: A person is released with a ticket that arises them to appear in court “on or before” a certain date, or to contact the court within so many days. If the person just picks up the phone and calls the court, many times, the clerk will simply confirm the person’s address and then tell him or her that notice of when to appear will be sent. That notice can be for something called an arraignment, a pre-trial date, or a combined arraigment/pre-trial; the details don’t matter as much as the fact that all a person needs to do is call the court to find out what to do next, and much of the time, he or she will be told to just wait for something in the mail.
In some cases a person is given a date to appear for an arraignment. The short explanation of the arraignment is that it is a proceeding in which a person is formally told the exact charge(s) against him or her ( e.g., Operating While Intoxicated), advised of his or her constitutional rights (“You have the right to a lawyer…”), and given conditions of bond (“Do not leave the state without the court’s permission…” etc.). For those released from lockup without posting any money, a bond amount (usually a few hundred dollars, at most) may be required, as well. In many courts, depending on the charge, that arraignment can be “waived” by a lawyer so that a person does not need to go. When a lawyer files the papers to waive an arraignment, a “not guilty” plea will automatically be entered for him or her, and the person and the lawyer will await a notice from the court to show up for what’s called a “pre-trial” date, where discussions about resolving the case are had between the lawyer and the prosecutor.