FTA Arraignments: What Happens If You Miss the First Court Date on Misdemeanor DUI?



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Most first offense Driving Under the Influence (DUI) cases are filed as misdemeanors. The first court date in a misdemeanor case in California, and most other US states, is called an “Arraignment”.

Generally, a DUI / DWI Arraignment date is set at the time of the defendant’s release from police custody after arrest. Usually the Defendant is personally served with written notice of this Arraignment date by an officer at the time of release.

The Arraignment in a DUI case is not a trial, it is a procedural appearance. At a misdemeanor Arraignment, the court reads the charges and the Defendant’s constitutional rights.

The criminal court then expects the Defendant to enter a plea, which tells the court how the Defendant wants to deal with the case.


The Defendant has several options at Arraignment. The Defendant may plead “Not Guilty” and demand a trial date. The Defendant may plead “Guilty” or “No Contest” and be sentenced on the spot.

Other options? The Defendant may ask for more time to hire a private attorney, or the Defendant may ask the court to appoint a public defender before any plea. Defendants can even ask the court to continue the arraignment upon a showing of good cause for a continuance, such as a need for a specialized translator.

Defendants with the money to hire a private Defense Attorney can often avoid going to the Arraignment in person, and send the Attorney in to plead not guilty for them, and collect evidence like the police report. Most states have a law that allows Attorneys to appear at Arraignment in place of a misdemeanor defendant. (See CA Penal Code 977 for example).

The Old Jail in Alpine County, California.

The Old Jail in Alpine County, California.

One thing the Defendant cannot do at Arraignment? Fail to Appear. Sadly, thousands of people do it every month. Here is some info on what happens if you miss your Arraignment date on a DUI and some leads on how to correct the problem.

When a Defendant does not appear in person or by Attorney at the DUI arraignment, the Court will generally issue a bench warrant for the Defendant. This warrant instructs the County Sheriff (or local equivalent) to serve the warrant on the Defendant personally, and take them into custody. The court will also set a “bail” for the warrant – which is an amount of money the Defendant can pay to avoid jail UNTIL THEIR NEXT COURT DATE which is where the warrant will be addressed by the court with the Defendant present.

A typical first offense DUI failure to appear warrant bail setting in, say ….., Sonoma County Superior Court would be about $20,000. A bail setting of $25,000 is not uncommon in DUI failure to appear cases. In some courts, the bail could be as low at $5,000.

Santa Clara County Jail Houses warrant Defendants

Santa Clara County Jail Houses warrant Defendants

Following issuance of the warrant, a new charge appear in the case which is a separate misdemeanor criminal charge of failure to appear. (See CA Vehicle Code 40508(a) for example). This separate failure to appear charge then becomes important in the case because it means you can still be convicted of crime even if you are found not guilty at trial of the DUI.

Then the case sits in a suspended status until the Defendant shows up in court.

With DUI failure to appear warrants, many Sheriff’s Offices will attempt to serve the warrant while it’s hot, so to speak, and arrest the Defendant right away. Like the next morning, at 6 am. San Diego County Sheriff, for example, has been known to do 5 am DUI warrant sweeps throughout the county to intentionally arrest people while they are getting ready for work.

See related article “Officer, Can We Stop at Starbucks?

The Defendant, once captured, is then brought back into court for a proper Arraignment on all charges, including the new failure to appear misdemeanor.

Of course, not everyone gets arrested the day after they fail to appear at the DUI Arraignment. Some Defendants get away with it for years. Nonetheless, the warrant always stays active, and the court expects that sooner or later the missing Defendant will show up.

How to correct the problem? Those who get their cases back on the court’s schedule voluntarily, as opposed to getting arrested, may be able to avoid the worst consequences. Everyday that goes by with a pending warrant makes a no jail result harder to get, but voluntary action on a warrant always makes it easier.

How to get a warrant case back on the court’s schedule voluntarily? Having a Defense Attorney do the work for you is the best option, but it is not required. I often advise people with warrant who cannot hire a private attorney to go to the courthouse in person and ask for a walk in court appearance on the warrant case.

Once in court, the warrant Defendant with no ability to hire a private attorney can ask for a public defender assignment. However, a public defender will not help defendants with warrants (in general). Public Defenders are not appointed in advance outside of court.

What is the usual result of missing a Arraignment who it’s all said and done? It varies greatly, and depends on how long it takes the Defendant to show up in court. In many cases, the Defendant who takes quick action and solves the problem correctly is rewarded with a dismissal of the failure to appear charge. But not always. Some Defendants do have to do some jail time.

When a person has a pending warrant from a criminal case, they are considered a fugitive from justice, and is subject to sudden arrest.

One thing we know for sure form experience?
,br> When a Defendant takes voluntary action to solve a DUI warrant problem, they may avoid the worst consequences like jail and bail.


Questions about a DUI warrant problem? Leave a reply below.

Want a free Attorney Case Review for a warrant case? Use out TrafficCourtPros.com Free Attorney Case Review Request form.

About Attorney Christopher Dort

Public Interest Attorney. CA State Bar #196832. Licensed to practice law in California 1998, and then the US Federal District Court in 2000. Civil Litigation Trial Attorney (Insurance Defense Firms) 2000-2003. Private practice 2003 - present. First Solo Criminal Jury Trial 1998 (Santa Cruz County). First Civil Jury Trial 2002 (Orange County). Santa Cruz County Public Defenders Office 1996-1999 (law clerk). BA in Politics from UC Santa Cruz, 1995. JD, University of California, Hastings, 1998.
This entry was posted in California Legal Help, DUI Information, Going to Court, Jail, Public Defenders, Sonoma County, Warrant Information, Warrant Searches and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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