What happens at your first court appearance
At the DUI arraignment, the charges are explained to the defendant, and the court makes sure that the defendant understands his constitutional rights, including the right to an attorney. If the defendant cannot afford to retain an attorney, arrangements are made at this proceeding to obtain an attorney for him (typically a public defender or an attorney associated with the Office of Public Defender).
If the defendant pleads guilty at the arraignment, the court will carefully question the defendant to determine whether the guilty plea is being made knowingly and voluntarily. The court is essentially seeking to ensure that no one has improperly coerced the defendant to enter a guilty plea. The court will also instruct the defendant that by pleading guilty, he or she is waiving the right to a trial and choosing to proceed immediately to the DUI penalty phase of the criminal process. If the court is satisfied that the defendant is voluntarily entering a plea of guilty, a date will be set for sentencing. Defendants who do not choose to plead guilty at the arraignment will have their cases scheduled for trial during the arraignment proceeding.
The Sixth Amendment grants seven fundamental rights to persons accused of crime. The last of the rights specified by that provision—but by no means the least—is “the right…have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” As such anyone charged with an offense has the right to be represented by an attorney.