When you are charged with driving under the influence in Rhode Island, you will either be released from the Police Station with paperwork indicating your first court date or you will be brought directly to the courthouse by the arresting police department.
In either case, your first appearance before a District Court Judge on a Rhode Island DUI charge is referred to as an arraignment. Sometimes it is referred to as a “re-arraignment” where you were presented before a bail commissioner at the police station prior to your arrest.
At this arraignment, you will be asked for your name, address, and date of birth. The Judge will then proceed with the arraignment and ask you if you plead guilty or not guilty. It is almost always advisable to enter a not guilty plea at this time. A not guilty plea can never be used against you. It keeps your options open and allows you to discover all of the evidence against you and attempt to negotiate a favorable plea agreement. The Judge will then set bail as a condition of your release pending trial or other resolution of the charges. The bail, on a first offense misdemeanor DUI charge, will typically be personal recognizance which is simply your promise to keep the peace and appear for all of your required court dates.
Your arraignment before a District Court Judge on a misdemeanor DUI charge is the formal beginning of the court process. It is the commencement of the prosecution of the case and both Constitutional and criminal procedure rights attach at this time. Some of the Rhode Island District Court Criminal Procedural Rules that attach at this time include the right to have the case proceed directly to a jury trial, the right to a trial in the District Court within 30 days, the right to request the Prosecution provide you with evidence permitted under the rules of discovery, and your Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel. Each one of these issues will be addressed at your District Court arraignment.
In Rhode Island, a misdemeanor DUI charge can be heard in the District Court and tried before a Judge or it can be transferred to the Superior Court and tried before a jury. If a Defendant chooses to have the case tried before a Judge in the District Court and they are found guilty after trial, they can then choose to appeal the decision to the Superior Court and have the case tried before a Jury. At your District Court arraignment, the Judge will ask if you wish to “keep your case in District Court” which will permit you to have a District Court trial prior to a Superior Court jury trial. In most cases, it is advisable to at least initially keep the case in the District Court.
Another Rhode Island District Court Rule of Criminal Procedure provides that a DUI charge shall go to trial within 30 days of the District Court arraignment unless good cause is shown for exceeding the 30 day limitation. It is almost always in the Defendant's benefit to exceed the 30 day limitation and ensure that the defense is fully prepared to proceed to trial. The Judge may ask, at the District Court arraignment, if the Defendant agrees to “waive” the 30 day rule.
The Rules of Criminal Procedure that attach at the time of the District Court arraignment includes Rule 16 which provides for discovery in criminal cases. In a Rhode Island DUI case, the discovery rule requires that the Prosecution provide the defense with copies of all police reports, witness statements, physical evidence, evidence of breath test machine operation and certification, and any audio or video evidence in the possession of the Police or the State. This Rule 16 evidence must be requested through a formal motion referred to as a Motion for Discovery and Inspection which can be filed by your DUI defense attorney after your arraignment.
Lastly, the United States Constitution provides that all criminal defendants facing a period of incarceration in excess of 6 months are entitled to the right to counsel. This right is provided for in the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Sixth Amendment applies to Rhode Island misdemeanor DUI charges because they carry a maximum potential jail sentence of up to one year. At your DUI arraignment in Rhode Island, the Judge will ask if you will be hiring a private defense attorney or if you wish to be referred to the public defender. If you cannot afford a private defense attorney, upon your release you should immediately go to the Public Defender's Office which is located in the courthouse where you were arraigned and ask to be interviewed for eligibility.
If you have been charged with a DUI in Rhode Island, it is always advisable to hire an experienced DUI defense attorney to represent you. As an attorney who has handled hundreds of Rhode Island drunk driving arraignments, we can guide you through the process smoothly and painlessly. If you have any questions, we can be reached at 401-228-8271 or via email at [email protected].