What to Say to the Judge in Court for Your DUI (Mistakes to Avoid)

Speaking to the judge during your DUI hearing can be overwhelming. Following proper etiquette in court can go a long way to benefit your case. How you address the court will depend on whether you have entered a guilty or not guilty plea. However, if you choose to take responsibility for your DUI and apologize to the judge, it may reflect well in your sentencing. 

How Do You Prepare for DUI Court? 

Your DUI attorney will help you prepare for DUI court. First, there is a pre-trial conference between your DUI defense lawyer and the prosecution. Barring any reason to continue the hearing (i.e., delay the hearing date due to legal issues), your attorney and the prosecution will discuss the details of your case.

At this time, your Washington state DUI attorney will negotiate on your behalf. Depending on the particulars of your arrest and circumstances, your lawyer will advocate to have the charges against you dropped or reduced. If the charges cannot be dismissed, the prosecution may offer a reduction in the charges in exchange for a guilty plea. Whether or not the negotiations go favorably, your DUI lawyer will discuss your options with you before entering a guilty or not guilty plea. 

If you choose to accept an offer made by the prosecution, it will resolve your court case without a trial. However, you will still need to speak to the judge before the court. It is critical that you remain respectful. The judge has the authority to accept or reject any deal you have made with the prosecution.  

How Do I Apologize to a Judge For a DUI? 

Whether or not you have entered into a plea or have been found guilty by the verdict, apologizing to a judge for a DUI can significantly impact sentencing. Washington State has mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. However, it is at the judge’s discretion to impose the minimum sentence, maximum sentence, or somewhere in between. 

Show Genuine Remorse

When speaking to the judge, it is important to know what to say in court for your DUI. A judge wants to hear you take responsibility for your actions. In addition, your overall demeanor and tone of voice must give the impression of sincere remorse. 

Mistakes to Avoid

Speaking to a judge involves more than the words you say. If you give your apology while seeming uncaring or resentful, the judge will not see your apology as genuine. Also, your apology must pertain to the act of driving under the influence and not getting caught. If a judge feels that you are only sorry for getting arrested and not for endangering the lives of others, they may feel you will be a repeat offender and impose a harsher sentence. Make sure not to give excuses or become argumentative with the judge. Your apology must show genuine remorse. 

Reference Any Relevant Background

There is a fine line between making excuses and admitting relevant details that may have influenced your decision to drive under the influence. For example, if you have a drug or alcohol problem, it is ok to admit that to the judge. Respectfully explain that you want to better yourself and are working to get your addictions under control. 

Mistakes to Avoid

Do not overexplain and tell the judge your entire life story. Court is not the place to go into detail about childhood traumas, a bad breakup, or how you inherited your parent’s addictive personality. Save those details for counseling. In court, the judge is more inclined to accept your apology if you accept responsibility for your actions. 

Express How This Situation Has Changed You

Try to focus on what you have learned from this experience and why you will never make the mistake again. If the judge believes your DUI arrest has been a wake-up call of sorts, they may factor that into your sentencing. 

Mistakes to Avoid

It is still important to sound genuinely remorseful when expressing how your DUI arrest has changed your behavior. Avoid appearing overly thankful, as it can give the impression that you are not taking the situation seriously. It may be best to speak to your DUI lawyer to decide the best way to express yourself. 

Inform the Judge of any Proactive Measures

Often, there are a few months or more between your arrest and the hearing. During that time, if you have taken any proactive measures to get help, it is important to enlighten the judge. 

Some of these proactive measures may include one or more of the following:

  • Attending any Alcoholics Anonymous or drug-related meetings
  • Signing up for any drug or alcohol programs
  • Attending group or individual counseling or therapy sessions

Respectfully and politely inform the judge that you apologize and have taken measures to rectify your mistake. 

Mistakes to Avoid

While it is beneficial to participate in one of the above programs before your DUI hearing, it is important that the judge sees this as an act of remorse. If the judge believes that you only participated in a treatment program to gain a lighter sentence, it can be detrimental to your case. Avoid speaking indifferently about your proactive measures. The judge needs to feel that you care and are trying to better yourself. 

Promise to Act More Responsibly

It can be difficult to see your judge as more than an adversary when you have been arrested for a DUI. It may help to understand that it is your judge’s responsibility to protect your rights and the rights of everyone you could potentially hurt should you drive under the influence again. 

Judges see multiple DUI cases a day, many of which are repeat offenders. Your judge needs to believe you will never appear before them again for the same offense. Take responsibility for driving under the influence and promise to never commit the crime again. 

Mistakes to Avoid

Do not break your promise to the judge. If you are charged with a DUI again, the judge will view any apology as an empty plea in the future and potentially impose the harshest sentence possible. 

Can a DUI Get Dismissed? 

A DUI can get dismissed in some cases. A DUI lawyer will be able to speak to the prosecutor on your behalf to negotiate a dismissal. Some grounds for dismissing DUI charges include:

  • Lack of evidence
  • Civil rights violations

In lieu of dismissing the charges outright, the prosecution may offer a deferred sentencing. A deferred DUI prosecution is a type of plea deal that will dismiss all criminal charges after completing a court-ordered treatment plan. 

If your DUI case cannot be dismissed and you opt out of any plea deals, you may fight the charges in court. If convicted, you will face common sentencing standards. 

How Long Does the Average DUI Court Case Take?

The court procedure changes if you have chosen to go to trial or accept a plea offer. If you choose to fight the DUI charges in court, you can choose a jury trial or a bench trial. 

A jury trial consists of 6 jurors that will decide if you are guilty or not guilty. During a bench trial, a judge decides whether or not you are guilty of driving under the influence. If you accept a plea deal from the prosecution, there is no need for a trial. Instead, you will appear before the judge for sentencing. 

Depending on what avenue you choose, a DUI court case can take anywhere from a day to a week. Your DUI lawyer will discuss the different options available to you and what choices may be in your best interests. 


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