After a drunk driving arrest, you may appear before a judge for arraignment. However, this judge may or may not be the judge who ends up hearing your case at trial. If you plead not guilty and the prosecutor goes forward with your case, your case will be assigned a trial judge. If you have a jury trial, the jury will ultimately decide your case but the judge will be the one presiding over the trial.
If you aren't familiar with the judge in your case, you may not know what to expect. To get an idea of what your judge will be like, talk to someone familiar with the court and criminal judges' reputations. Call an experienced East Bay DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible to have the best chance to keep your license and avoid a criminal record.
What Judge Will You Get for Your DUI Case?
When a criminal case is going to trial, the case will be assigned to one of the county criminal court judges. Criminal court judges are generally assigned trials by case number. The judge is generally chosen based on availability, which depends on the number of judges and the volume of cases.
There are 4 criminal courts in Alameda County, including 2 criminal courts in Oakland:
Each courthouse has a number of judicial officers who can be assigned general criminal trials. The judge you are assigned may just depend on the luck of the draw.
In most California drunk driving cases, the sentencing will be very similar between different judges. However, there are aggravating and mitigating factors that can increase or decrease the penalties. Judges have some judicial discretion in DUI cases and different judges could see the same set of facts in different ways. However, the judge generally has to stay within judicial standards.
Different County Courts
California is a big state with 58 counties. Even though the criminal courts apply California state law to drunk driving cases, they can be treated differently in different counties. Different counties can have different court rules, which are important to understand for your legal defense.
Different counties may also have different conditions of probation. For example, for a number of years, there were 4 counties, including Alameda County, which had a pilot program for ignition interlock devices (IIDs) for drunk drivers. This allowed drivers to get limited driving privileges back with an IID installed in the vehicle. After the pilot program, the program was opened up to drivers in all counties in 2019.
For a drunk driving arrest in Oakland or Alameda County, you should consider getting a judge with experience in Alameda County who understands the local court rules and penalties involved.
Can I Get a Change of Judge for My DUI Case?
In some cases, you can request to change the judge in your case. You may be able to disqualify a judge from your case. Some options include:
- Peremptory challenge
- Challenge for cause
Peremptory Challenge to Change Your Judge
A peremptory challenge is a way to change your judge in a criminal case if you think the judge won't be fair.
Under California Code of Civil Procedure 170.6(a)(1), “a judge, court commissioner, or referee of a superior court of California shall not try a civil or criminal action or special proceeding nor hear any matter that involves a contested issue of law or fact when it is established as provided in this section that the judge or court commissioner is prejudiced against a party or attorney or the interest of a party or attorney appearing in the action or proceeding.”
If you believe your judge is biased against you or will not be fair in making decisions in your case, you can file a motion that the judge is prejudiced against you or your interests and you will not get a fair and impartial trial.
In general, you get only one peremptory challenge. Your case may be assigned to a new judge and you won't be able to make another challenge without cause.
If you do want to make a peremptory challenge, you have to make the motion in time or it may be too late to change your judge. Talk to your DUI defense lawyer about your legal options if you think your judge is prejudiced.
Challenge for Cause to Change Your Judge
You can also request to change your judge through a challenge for cause. Under California Code of Civil Procedure 170.1, a judge can be disqualified for cause. For cause means that you have to show the basis for your request. You generally can't just claim the judge is prejudiced against you without some evidence or specific grounds. For example, for cause reasons may include:
- Conflict of interest
- Financial interest
- Relationship to a party in the case
- Personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts
A pleading for disqualification of the judge for cause must be made in writing and raised at the earliest practicable opportunity.
In limited situations, you can make a complaint for judicial misconduct. This is for ethical violations and not just because you disagree with the judge's findings. If you have questions about how you can change your judge, contact an experienced East Bay DUI defense attorney.
Did I Get a Good or Bad Judge in My Case?
Your lawyer will be able to look at the judge assigned to your case and let you know what you can expect. If necessary, your attorney can also request a change of judges to give you a better chance at fair treatment. Your lawyer can also negotiate with the judge to get the best outcome for your situation.
However, with a strong legal defense, it may not matter who your judge is. An experienced California DUI defense lawyer understands how to evaluate a case to find the greatest strengths. Find an East Bay trial attorney who has a record of success defending drivers charged with drunk driving. If you got a DUI in Oakland or Alameda County, call attorney Lynn Gorelick at 510-785-1444 or 925-847-3006.