Drink Driving Court Procedure
Attending court for drink driving can be a worrying experience. The courts are designed to feel intimidating - and can be, particularly for those who have never been to court before. The criminal courts in England and Wales have existed in some form for over a thousand years. In Anglo-Saxon times, the accused would be forced to pick up a red hot bar of iron, pluck a stone out of a cauldron of boiling water, or something equally painful and dangerous. If their hand had begun to heal after three days they were considered to have God on their side, thus proving their innocence [www.judiciary.uk]. Thankfully, much has changed since Anglo-Saxon times!
Get to court on time and plan your route!
Your police paperwork will probably contain a date and time to attend court. Make sure you plan your route to court before the day of the hearing to make sure you know which court to attend and where to park. On the day of the hearing leave early to allow for traffic.
You can plan your route using Google Maps. You will find the court address on the paperwork.
Do I need to notify the court of my plea before the hearing?
A common question is whether you need to notify the court of your plea before the hearing date. The answer is no. Unless you've received a Single Justice Procedure Notice (not applicable to drink or drug driving cases), it is not necessary to notify the court before the hearing date. It is always advisable that you speak to a solicitor and check the evidence before you decide to plead guilty.
M.A.J Law offer free initial advice. We'd be happy to discuss your case in detail and review the options open to you.
Should you drive to your first court hearing?
This all depends on whether you plan on pleading guilty. If you do, don't drive. This is because drink driving carries a mandatory driving disqualification. The driving ban takes immediate effect and cannot be avoided if you plead guilty (unless you raise a special reason). If you're caught driving whilst disqualified, you will probably go to prison.
What happens when I arrive at court?
When you arrive at court you'll go through a security check. This will involve an airport-style scanner and a security wand. If you carry a bag, this will be checked. For obvious reasons, don't take sharp objects, scissors, knives etc... to court. These will be taken from you and might not be returned. Liquids will also be checked and you might be asked to sip any liquid you're carrying.
Depending on the layout of the court, you may be asked to 'sign in' with reception or wait in the seating area for a court usher to appear. Keep a look out for the court list. This is usually found on a notice board as you step in to the court building and will contain a list of every person in court that day. It will also tell you which court room your case will be heard in. There could be up to 10 court rooms inside a court building. If at any point you're unsure, make sure you ask a court usher or a member of court staff.
If we are representing you we would usually obtain the evidence before the court hearing. We would discuss this with you and provide you with a copy. This will give you a 'heads up' before you get to court, so you know what to expect. It will also give us time to prepare your defence before the day of court. We will also discuss this with you in a quiet conference room whilst at court. We can then make a final decision on how to proceed. Ultimately there are two options - plead guilty or not guilty.
What happens in the court room?
You may not be in court at the exact time shown on your police paperwork. Hearings in the Magistrates' Court are often delayed, meaning you're waiting around in court. Don't panic if your case isn't called on straight away. There will always be priority cases that take precedent over yours. This is normal.
When the court are ready, your name will be called out by the court usher. You'll then be led into court by this person and asked to stand in the dock. Keep your hands out of your pockets and stay standing. The Legal Advisor will then ask you to confirm your full name, address and date of birth. This is confirmed in open court with solicitors, barrister, court staff and sometime the press present.
After this, the Legal Advisor will read out the charge/s and ask you to enter a plea. You will respond with either 'guilty' or 'not guilty'. Once you've entered your plea you'll be asked to sit down whilst the prosecutor outlines the facts of the case against you. Following which, your solicitor/barrister will set out your defence (assuming you're pleading not guilty) and take the court through the individual issues. A trial date should then be set.
If you plead guilty, the only difference is that your representative will present mitigation. The purpose of mitigation is to persuade the court to impose the minimum penalty by highlighting any mitigating features of your case. Please remember that you will always be given the opportunity to mitigate, even if you're convicted after a trial.
If you are unrepresented then you will be asked to speak in court.
What do I wear to court?
Dress smartly. If you own a suit, wear it. If not, jeans/black pants and a smart shirt/blouse will do. If you turn up in clothing that is not appropriate this could be considered disrespectful to the court.
Do I need to fill out the MC100 Statement of Means form before the court hearing?
It's entirely up to you. The MC100 Statements of Means is only presented to the court if you plead guilty. This is because you will likely be fined (unless you receive community service or prison). The fine is means tested and depends upon what you earn. The less you earn the less you pay. If your income various week to week, an average will do. The court may also ask about savings and a partner's income.
Drink driving offences usually start with an arrest. It might be that you were pulled over by the police, or perhaps you were involved in an accident and the police arrived a short time later. Whatever the circumstance, a sample of breath, blood or urine will have been taken from you. If you failed to provide a sample, click here.
You can read more about police procedure on our drink driving page. You should always consider the police procedure in your case. One of the most common ways that we win drink driving cases is because the police don't follow the correct procedures. Over worked officers, lack of training, bad attitudes - whatever the excuse, the case should fail.
If you have been bailed to attend court it is important that you seek urgent legal advice. It is always in your interests to understand your options before the court hearing and review the evidence. M.A.J Law offer free initial legal advice. We are usually able to tell you in straightforward terms whether you have a defence to the allegation. Please get in touch to discuss the case with a member of our team.
Photo credit: University of Derby
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