Mandatory Court Appearance for DUI Cases
I receive about five new client inquiries each day and it is common for people to ask me whether they will need to appear in court. Penal Code Section 977(a) allows attorneys to appear in court for their client in misdemeanor DUI cases. Felony DUI charges in Los Angeles require the attendance of the defendant at each and every court appearance. However, as a result of a recent change to the law, judges may order the presence of defendants in court in DUI cases. This is one example of the legislature making special rules for DUI cases. In my experience, few judges order the presence of defendants at routine court appearances in misdemeanor DUI cases.
Some judges will order the presence of a defendant at a pre-trial hearing if the case is getting "old" and the judge wants a resolution, and of course, the defendants presence is required for a jury trial. In normal circumstances, DUI attorneys in Los Angeles and Orange County are allowed to appear for their clients at the arraignment and for pre-trail conferences and may also appear for the client to resolve a case if the defendant executes notarized plea bargain documentation in advance of the hearing. This is particularly convenient for out of state defendants charged with DUI.
However, there appears to be a subtle change in the wind in that some judges are becoming aware that they can order the presence of defendants in DUI cases and deny "977" appearances by counsel. This can come as a surprise to attorneys who, for many years have been used to appearing in court without their client. I recently heard from two fellow DUI defense lawyers in Los Angeles that they had been denied the ability to appear for their client.
In one case a $100,000 warrant was issued by a judge in Pomona even though the attorney was present in court with a signed "977" waiver from the client. I discussed the matter with an experienced judge in Bellflower the following day who told me that he was aware of the change in the law, but was in private practice once himself and would never disallow an attorney the ability to appear in court without his client being present. Hopefully, common sense will prevail and judges will not routinely insist on the presence of DUI defendants at court when they have retained an attorney to represent their interests.