Generally, the first court date for a DUI or any other criminal charge is called the "arraignment." Here's some basic information about what happens at DUI arraignments.
State law typically specifies how long after an arrest the arraignment must occur. Normally, the timeframe is substantially shorter if the person who was arrested is sitting in jail. For example, some states require arraignments to take place within 36 hours of the arrest if the defendant is in jail and within 96 hours of arrest for defendants who aren't in jail. However, the normal timelines might be somewhat longer if the courthouse is closed over a weekend or for a holiday.
Also, for defendants who aren't in jail, there sometimes aren't set deadlines or the deadlines are in relation to the date the prosecution files charges rather than the day of arrest.
In some cases, the arraignment is the first and only court date. For instance, in a case where a defendant wants to plead guilty and get sentenced right away, one trip to court is generally all it takes. But in most cases, the arraignment just marks the beginning of court proceedings.
Each jurisdiction has its own procedures. However, the basics of what happens at arraignment are fairly standard.
The main purpose of the arraignment is for the judge to inform defendants of the charges and their legal rights. The judge is normally required to actually read the law the defendant is accused of violating and tell the defendant about certain rights like the rights to an attorney and a jury trial. But in many cases, defendants will "waive" the right to this formal advisement, especially when they already have an attorney who can explain the process and various rights involved.
Defendants who are charged with driving under the influence have the right to an attorney. At the arraignment, the judge typically asks if the defendant wants a court-appointed attorney (such as the public defender) or to hire a private lawyer. If the defendant opts to hire an attorney, the judge might reset the date of the arraignment a week or so out, giving the defendant some time to retain a lawyer. For defendants who want court-appointed counsel, the judge will normally appoint an attorney right then and there.
For defendants who've been in jail since the time of their arrest, the judge will generally address bail and conditions of release at the arraignment. Depending on the situation, the judge might set a bail amount or release the defendant without requiring payment of bail. In either situation, the judge will normally outline certain conditions the defendant must agree to such as promising to appear for all future court dates.
The prosecution is required to turn over certain evidence to the defense through a process called "discovery." The discovery process normally begins at arraignment by the prosecution giving the defense a copy of the police report.
In many jurisdictions, the defendant enters a plea at the arraignment. In most cases, defendants who are charged with a DUI will enter a "not guilty" plea. Although the defendant might later change the plea to "guilty" or "no contest," the initial not-guilty plea allows the defendant to keep his or her options open for the time being.
It's nice to know roughly how things happen in DUI cases. But there's really no substitute for the help of an attorney who has experience handling DUI cases. If you've been arrested for a DUI, it's a good idea to get in touch with a local DUI lawyer as soon as possible.