If I hire a California DUI attorney, do I still have to go to court?
Generally not. If your DUI charge is a misdemeanor (rather than a felony), then usually your California DUI attorney can go to court on your behalf. This is allowed under California Penal Code Section 977. Penal Code 977 allows DUI attorneys to appear without their clients in California misdemeanor cases.
There may ultimately be a “plea bargain” in which you plead guilty (or no contest) to DUI or to some lesser charge. In that case, the California DUI attorney can have you fill out the necessary documents (called a Thal waiver) in his/her office, have them notarized, and bring the documents to court. This process allows you to avoid having to go to court.
However, the DUI judge can “deny Penal Code 977” and order the defendant to appear at certain court proceedings. For example, some judges require the defendants to be present at DUI sentencing…so they can hear directly the terms of probation. And most judges require defendants to be present at DUI jury trials. Whether you will have to attend any of the DUI court proceedings depends on the discretion of the judge to whom your case is assigned.
Will it look bad if I don't go to DUI court?
Generally speaking, not at all. Most clients, if they privately retain a California DUI lawyer, never go to court. And most discussions among the DUI attorney, the prosecutor and the judge occur in chambers or in backrooms, outside the client's presence. It really makes no difference whether the client is present.
There are exceptions, however. If a formal motion takes place, such as a motion to challenge the probable cause for the DUI traffic stop, it can be valuable for the client to be present. The cop will probably testify. As the event is recounted, you may recall details that can assist your DUI attorney in cross-examination.
Also, with you present at the hearing, the DUI judge may be slightly more inclined to rule in your favor. The judge gets to see you as a live human being, not just a name on paper. Although legally this should have no bearing on the DUI judge's decision, in reality it can create a sympathy factor that makes the judge want to side with you.