By Erin Gerstenzang

One of the difficult things about a DUI arrest in Georgia is not understanding what comes next. There is a lot of anticipation and anxiety connected with the first court date, particularly if you do not yet have an attorney.

If you opt to represent yourself at your first court date, here are some tips to keep in mind as you prepare.

  • Let the Judge know you want an attorney. At the first court date, it is common for people to come without an attorney because they haven’t had time to hire one yet. If you don’t have an attorney, you can ask the Judge for extra time to find and hire a lawyer or apply for the Public Defender. And if the Judge asks you how much time you need – be honest! Tell the Judge what the hold up is – maybe you need to save money, or the attorney you want is not available yet. Usually, the Judge will be flexible at that first appearance and give you time to find a lawyer. However, her patience may evaporate if you show up a second time without doing what you promised. Judges usually keep notes of your initial conversation and follow up at your next appearance – so don’t assume they won’t remember what was said. If you don’t have a lawyer by the second court date, the Judge may have questions about how much you have done to get representation. If money is an issue, this includes whether you have applied for the Public Defender.
  • Do not waive your right to a jury trial. Most people without an attorney in court are intimidated by the prospect of a jury trial. They don’t think twice before waiving their right to one, but many attorneys would advise against it. It is best to wait to speak with an attorney before waiving any of your constitutional rights. And read everything you sign very carefully because the waiver will be in writing. If you pay attention, you see that very few attorneys waive the jury trial at the first appearance.
  • Manage your expectations. You may notice that the prosecutor will not have a lot of information about the case at the first court date. It is typical for the video or blood test to take weeks or months. So do not be disappointed when the prosecutor does not have much information about the case at that first court date.
  • Budget enough time. Sometimes the process takes a lot longer than anyone expects. Depending on the calendar size, the entire court appearance could be over quickly or last several hours. And many judges will see cases that have an attorney first – making it frustrating for those who represent themselves. But you can reduce your stress and avoid missing critical events by freeing up your calendar for the day.
  • Be patient. Courtrooms can be scary and intimidating. And they are certainly not designed with an orientation toward customer service. When people feel treated poorly, ignored, or rushed – all of which are everyday experiences in court – it does not bring out the best in them. But if you prepare for this in advance, it will be easier to keep your wits about you and remain cool, calm, and collected. One of the worst things you can do is to be memorable to the prosecutor because you lose your cool. Impatience and ugly attitudes with court staff or the prosecutor makes a bad situation worse and creates unnecessary friction for you moving forward.
  • Wear something that honors the formality of the occasion. It doesn’t need to be a suit, but it shouldn’t be flip-flops and shorts. If you wear a uniform for work, then that is usually perfectly fine. For example, it is common to see folks in scrubs on their way to the hospital.
  • Timing matters. Whether you hire a private attorney or apply for a Public Defender, remember the clock is ticking. Prioritize making decisions about your representation, and do not drag your feet. The most important decision you make after your arrest is deciding which DUI attorney to hire. We all have different strengths – as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach. Ask thoughtful questions and do your research! Avoid rushing the process, but do not run from the task either because it is critical to invest in finding the right attorney for you. Your future self will thank you!

Understanding these basic tips is a good start for preparing for your court date. But do not let unanswered questions cause you more stress or anxiety! Contact us today for a free consultation.