Should You Attend the First Appearance Even If You Have Retained an Attorney?
Interviewer: In a situation where if I had a lawyer and I choose not to go to that initial arraignment, would you suggest for me to go?
Attorney Bortel: I see where your question is going and that is a very good question. A large number of my clients think that they should go to their first court date so the judge or the prosecutor can see that they’re dressed nicely, they’re well put together, well kept, their hair is nice, and that they don’t look like some common criminal.
It Is Generally Not Necessary for the Defendant to Attend the First Court Appearance
Well, it does not help at all in San Francisco or in most counties to show up for the first court appearance. All that is happening is a new court date is being set for what’s usually a conference with the prosecutor and the judge. We’re obtaining discovery, so we’re getting the police report and complaint, which is the charges against you from the DA, from the prosecutor, and we’re entering a plea of not guilty.
Sometimes when I go in to do an arraignment for a client, whether they’re with you or not, I will continue that first court appearance, the arraignment, for a number of weeks or a month or more. There are certain things that I need to do to be ready to make a decision on what we’re going to do. There are different reasons for that and in most cases we do their arraignment at the first appearance.
For DUI Cases Involving High Blood Alcohol Levels or an Accident, Prior to Trial, the Individual Will Be Required to Pay for Alcohol Monitoring through the Sheriff’s Department
One of the things that San Francisco does, and this is actually a very good segue, is San Francisco and a few other counties have decided that if it’s a first offense and there is an accident or there is a very high blood alcohol level, they will require monitoring of someone arrested for a DUI. That monitoring, right now, is through a breath test that you have to sign up for and pay for with the Sheriff’s Department in San Francisco.
For example, if you went into court with a lawyer today and you had a fender bender, no injuries, but you had an accident or your blood alcohol level was a .23, which is almost three times the legal limit. Even a .19, .20, they’ll still require this.
This Monitoring Requires the Individual to Blow into a Portable Device 4 Times a Day and There Are One Time and Daily Costs Associated with the Device
What would happen is if your attorney entered a plea of not guilty, the judge, assuming it’s the current judge in there, would order that you go on monitoring by the Sheriff’s Office while your case is going on. You would have to go to the Sheriff’s Department down the street and fill out forms and be setup with a breath machine. This breath machine you’d have to blow into approximately four times a day and they have some other conditions you have to abide by as well.
You pay a deposit on the machine, which I believe is hundreds of dollars. Then it’s going to cost you a lot of money, I believe it’s about 15 to 20 dollars a day, to be on this machine. This is while your case is going on, so most people don’t want to be on this machine. What I like to do, with clients who are in this situation, is take the extra time to try and keep them off the monitor so that I can look into the case and see what our defenses are.
By Continuing the First Court Appearance, Your Defense Attorney Tries to Avoid the Court Imposing the Alcohol Monitoring
If it’s a case that’s not going to go to trial or not going to go in for a long time, then we can avoid the monitoring expense for that extra month or six weeks until the next court date. What I will do is not have my client come in with me and continue the arraignment for four, five, or six weeks. From there I will keep trying to keep them off the monitor. There’s no guarantee that that can or will happen, that the judge will go for that, but in most cases that has worked.
By Aaron Bortel
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