In this article, our California DUI defense attorneys1 explain how drunk driving cases are prosecuted and defended at the Van Nuys Courthouse by addressing the following:
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
Your first court appearance following your DUI arrest will be your arraignment. The arraignment presents you with your first opportunity to plead guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere “no contest” to your charge(s).
At the Van Nuys Courthouse, misdemeanor DUI arraignments take place in Department 103 (Room 407) on the fourth floor. Felony DUI arraignments take place in Department 100 (Room 305) on the third floor. Arraignments for misdemeanors charges other than driving under the influence take place in Department 101 (Room 307) on the third floor.
∗Because misdemeanor DUIs are much more common than felony DUIs, this article will focus on misdemeanor driving under the influence cases at the Varraignan Nuys Courthouse.
Once you are in an arraignment courtroom, the courtroom staff will play a video that details your Constitutional rights. Two of the most important rights that pertain to your arraignment include
- your right to an attorney (which includes the right to have a Los Angeles Public Defender appointed to you if you cannot afford a private attorney), and
- the right to a speedy trial.
If…following your DUI arrest…you were released from the Van Nuys Jail either on your own recognizance (known as an O.R. release) or because you
posted bail, you do not need to appear personally at your arraignment, as long as you secure legal representation ahead of time. Your California DUI defense attorney can appear on your behalf.
However, if you have not been released from jail…and have not retained an attorney from jail…or cannot afford to hire a private attorney, then you must personally appear. At your arraignment, you will be provided with an opportunity to speak with a public defender should you wish to apply for their services. You will also have the option of representing yourself.
Your failure to appear at the arraignment…either personally or through an attorney…will prompt the judge to issue a California bench warrant for your arrest.
At the Van Nuys Courthouse, the prosecutor ostensibly offers the “best” deal at the arraignment. They do this
- as an incentive for you to accept responsibility for your actions, and
- to avoid the time and expense of proceeding further through the California criminal court process
Depending on the circumstances of your particular case, the prosecutor’s offer may be
- the minimum DUI penalty authorized by law,
- an enhanced penalty if there are aggravating factors (discussed below in Section 1.3. Sample arraignment offers), or
- if the case has significant flaws, the prosecutor may even ask you to plead guilty to a reduced DUI charge with a lighter sentence, such as
- a “wet” reckless under California Vehicle Code 23103 per 23103.5 VC,
- a “dry” reckless under California Vehicle Code 23103 VC,
- an exhibition of speed under California Vehicle Code 23109(c) VC,
- Penal Code 647(f) drunk in public, or even
- one or two moving violations (mere infractions) such as speeding or unsafe lane changes (Vehicle Code 22107).
But as top Van Nuys DUI defense attorney Darrell York2 explains, “When the prosecutor doesn’t offer a reduced charge…or even sometimes when he/she does…it may not be in your best interest to “plead out” at this stage in the proceedings. Your attorney will not have had a proper opportunity to investigate the case prior to the arraignment.”
The arraignment is really the first opportunity for the defense attorney to receive the police report and blood or breath BAC analysis reports. The prosecutor usually provides these to the defense at the first court date.
This means that…at the time of your arraignment…your attorney probably hasn’t yet had a proper chance to evaluate the case to know whether you should “take the deal” or plead “not guilty” and set the case for pretrial.
Generally speaking, unless the offer is “too good to pass up”…perhaps because on information you provided to your Van Nuys DUI defense attorney, but of which the prosecutor is still unaware…your attorney will likely advise you to advance the case to pretrial or request a continuance of the arraignment.
And most attorneys who regularly defend DUI cases at the Van Nuys Courthouse will automatically request a two-week continuance which allows the attorney to conduct some additional investigation on the case.
There are two advantages to doing this:
- it keeps the prosecutor’s offer on the table, and
- it allows some additional time before the clock begins to run for trial.
The second factor is particularly important because DUI cases at the Van Nuys Courthouse go on a very strict timeline: judges will not permit a drunk driving case to go more than 90 days without going to a jury trial. This means that if the case doesn’t settle within that timeframe, the judge will not grant any further continuances. You must either plead guilty or go to trial.
But the fact is that once a skilled DUI defense lawyer begins his/her investigation, he/she will likely discover legal defenses and weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case that will help fight the DUI and lead to a better DUI plea bargain down the road.
Typical DUI Van Nuys Courthouse arraignment offers are as follows:
- A “standard first”…that is, a first-time DUI with no aggravating factors…consists of
- 36 months of informal DUI probation,
- a $390 fine (∗fines end up being about three times the stated amount due to penalties and assessments),
- completion of a three-month California DUI school,
- a six-month driver’s license suspension (though we are usually able to secure a restricted license that allows driving to and from work, and you should be able to continue driving without restrictions if you agree to get an ignition interlock device “IID” installed – California Senate Bill 1046)
- A “standard second” consists of
- 36 to 60 months of informal probation, depending on the circumstances,
- at least 96 hours in a county jail,
- a $500 fine with the same caveat regarding penalties and assessments as above,
- completion of an 18 or 30-month DUI school,
- a two-year license suspension (which you may be able to convert to a restricted license after one-year, or you should be able to continue driving without restrictions if you agree to get an IID installed), and
- installation of an IID.
- A “standard third” consists of
- 60 months of informal probation,
- a minimum 120 days in a county jail,
- a $500 fine plus the penalties and assessments noted above,
- completion of a 30-month DUI school
- a three-year license suspension (or you should be able to continue driving without restrictions if you agree to get an IID installed),
- designation as a habitual traffic offender (“HTO”), and
- installation of an IID.
Aggravating factors, such as
- a particularly high blood alcohol concentration “BAC”,
- a refusal to submit to a chemical blood or breath test,
- an accident,
- DUI with a child under 14 as a passenger in the car,
- DUI while driving at excessive speeds,
- driving on a suspended driver’s license or driving without a driver’s license,
- prior DUI convictions, or
- some other type of criminal history
typically increase these DUI penalties.
And if you had a particularly high BAC, you may also be required to attend between 26 and 52 Alcoholics Anonymous “AA” meetings within your first year of probation.
If you were involved in a traffic accident, you may be required to complete 10 days of community service or labor, such as Caltrans roadside work.
And, of course, these DUI offers at the Van Nuys courthouse will vary, depending on the specific facts of your case. Cases that do not resolve during arraignment advance to the pretrial process.
Cases that do not resolve during arraignment advance to the pretrial process.
Once a case has moved out of the arraignment court, it advances to pretrial. When a case enters the pretrial process, it is sent to a new courtroom and assigned a new prosecutor. It is in this courtroom where
- your attorney will continue to engage in DUI plea bargain
negotiations with the prosecutor,
- your attorney will continue to engage in DUI plea bargain
- your jury trial will most likely ultimately take place, should you choose to take your case to trial.
A savvy Van Nuys DUI defense attorney may try to stretch the 90-day timeframe as far as he/she can. This is because continuances are often good for the defense. As time goes on, memories fade, officers go on vacation or get transferred and evidence becomes less clear.
If the case doesn’t resolve during the pretrial process, then the case goes to trial.
Because so many DUI trials take place at the Van Nuys Courthouse, they move through the system in an almost robotic fashion. The prosecutor and his/her witnesses usually consist of
- the arresting officer, and
- a member of the L.A.P.D.’s Scientific Investigation Division (“SID”) (a criminalist who will testify that your BAC and/or field sobriety test “FST” performance is consistent with someone who is under the influence) …
These witnesses often just regurgitate facts and information, failing to distinguish between defendants or arrests.
A defense attorney who frequently handles DUI cases at the Van Nuys Courthouse not only expects this but is readily familiar with these officers and SID criminalists and their typical testimony. As a result, a knowledgeable lawyer can anticipate
- what questions to ask his/her witnesses,
- what questions will be useful to discredit the prosecution witnesses on cross-examination, and
- what defenses will be most effective in a particular case.
The DUI lawyer’s objective at trial is to persuade the jury to return a “not guilty” verdict. If they do, the charge is dismissed and the case is over.
On the other hand, if the jury finds you guilty, the court will hold a sentencing hearing.
At the sentencing hearing, your attorney will try to persuade the judge to impose a minimal sentence. Conversely, the prosecutor will usually try to persuade the judge to impose a harsher sentence.
But unless new aggravating facts were revealed during the trial…or the judge believes that you committed perjury if you chose to testify)…the judge will most likely impose a sentence that is similar to the one that the prosecutor offered you prior to trial. If new aggravating facts were revealed, or the judge believes you lied on the stand, he/she may likely increase your sentence.
The good news is that Van Nuys DUI judges are open to alternative sentencing. “Alternative sentencing” allows a defendant to serve his/her sentence at home or in a private jail in lieu of serving time in county jail. The most common alternative sentencing options include (but are not limited to):
- house arrest, or
- performing community labor like CALTRANS roadside work or community service.
This is just one more reason why hiring a California lawyer who routinely defends DUI cases at the Van Nuys Courthouse is so invaluable. An experienced Van Nuys DUI attorney knows which judges will permit alternative sentences, what arguments are most likely to convince them to sentence you in this fashion and how to secure the most favorable results for his/her clients.
Call us for help…
For more information about DUI cases at the Van Nuys Courthouse, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
Our California criminal law offices are located in and around Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
1Our California DUI defense attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier. We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
2Van Nuys DUI defense attorney Darrell York uses his former experience as a Glendale Police Officer to represent clients at the Ventura Hall of Justice, the Van Nuys courthouse, the Pasadena courthouse, the Burbank courthouse, the Glendale courthouse, the Lancaster courthouse, the San Fernando courthouse, the Criminal Courts Building and at local DMV driver safety offices to conduct their DMV hearings.