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Author: Brenton McWilliams

Arrested in Orange Beach? Here’s What You Need to Know Before You Go to Court

You’ve been arrested in Orange Beach. You have a court date. What should you expect when you get there and what do you need to know about Orange Beach municipal court?

How does court work in Orange Beach?

Court in Orange Beach is a municipal/city court. The court has jurisdiction over traffic tickets and misdemeanors including driving under the influence (DUI) and possession of marijuana. Orange Beach Court does not cover felonies including more serious drug charges. Felonies go to state court typically beginning in Baldwin County District Court.

What do you do when you get to court in Orange Beach?

Note: In-person court appearances are set to begin again toward the end of May. Orange Beach municipal court has been closed for in-person court appearances, due to coronavirus, since March. Going forward, when in-person appearances resume in Orange Beach municipal court, you can expect modifications to the procedures discussed in this article such as cases being called into the court building in small groups, only the defendant (no parents or family members) and their lawyer allowed to the enter the courtroom, and waiting outside the building to be called in for your case.

On your court date, be sure to arrive on time. If you’re late, you’ll most likely get put on the end of the docket. When you arrive for court, if you have not hired a lawyer, you will get in line to sign-in. If you have hired a lawyer, your lawyer will sign you in. After you sign-in, take a seat. Turn off your cell phone. If your cell phone rings during court, it’s embarrassing. The judge may stop what he’s doing, call you out and everyone will stare at you. The judge may also confiscate your phone.

When the judge arrives, the courtroom doors will close, and he’ll begin announcing the instructions for court. After instructions, the judge will begin bringing up cases for defendants represented by an attorney.  After he finishes with the attorney cases, the judge will begin calling cases for defendants who do not have an attorney. He calls the cases by name.

The courtroom in Orange Beach does not have a microphone or speakers to amplify the judge’s voice or the voice of anyone speaking to the judge. When anyone else is talking in the courtroom it can be difficult to hear the judge announcing the cases and, if it’s loud enough, it can be very difficult for the judge and people before him to have a conversation about the case. Because of this, the judge is very sensitive to people talking during court. While you are waiting for your case to be called, the judge will instruct you not to talk. If you need to talk, you should go out to the hallway. However, if you spend too much time in the hallway, you may get pushed to the end of the docket if you miss your case being called.

If you do not have an attorney, when your case is called you will go to the front of the courtroom to speak with the judge. For most cases in Orange Beach municipal court, your first court date is also your trial date. The judge will give you the option to plead guilty or request a trial. If you are there for the first time, you may also ask the judge to move your court date to a later date to give you time to hire a lawyer or get a witness to appear for your trial – this is also called a continuance.

If you plead guilty, the judge will accept your plea and sentence you immediately. Sometimes, he may ask for the arresting officer to tell him about the case before he decides on a sentence. Depending on the charge, the sentence may include fines, court costs, probation or jail time. After you are sentenced, you will be sent to wait in a line to pay your fine and court costs, go over any probation paperwork, and, if necessary, schedule an evaluation with the court referral officer. If your sentence includes jail time, you will be taken into custody to immediately begin serving your sentence.

If you request a trial, 90% of the time it will happen immediately. A trial in municipal court is not like the trials you’ve seen in the movies. A trial in municipal court usually lasts about five to ten minutes. If the arresting officer is not present, the court staff will radio the officer to come in to testify. If the officer is not available, your case will be moved to a later date for trial if it’s the first appearance.

There are no jury trials for charges in Orange Beach municipal court. All cases are decided by the judge. If you are found guilty by the judge, he will sentence you immediately. If you are found guilty following a trial, you have a right to appeal the case to circuit court by filing a notice of appeal within 14 days of the judgment. The appeal to circuit court is de novo, which basically means it’s a do over rather than a review of the proceedings in municipal court. On an appeal to circuit court, you have the opportunity to request a trial by jury by requesting a jury trial on the notice of appeal. To perfect the appeal to circuit court, a bond must be placed, in an amount set by the court not exceeding twice the amount of the fines and court costs.

Don’t Drink or Use Other Substances Before Your Trial Date in Orange Beach Municipal Court

This may sound like a no brainer, but I see it happen pretty often. You may be tempted to turn your Orange Beach court appearance into an excuse to come down for another vacation and have a few drinks on the beach before you head to court in the afternoon. Don’t do it. If any of the court staff, the police officers or the judge smell alcohol on your breath, they will send you to one of the police officers in court to do a breathalyzer test. If the breathalyzer test shows you’ve been drinking, the judge will hold you in contempt of court and sentence you to five days in jail. After your five days in jail, your case is still pending, and you have to come back to court again. It happens more than you would think. I’ve seen a four-month streak of Orange Beach court dockets with at least one person going to jail for showing up to court after drinking. I’ve seen one guy held in contempt twice for drinking before court. He had to come back to court three times before he could finish his case.

On Your Trial Date in Orange Beach Municipal Court, You Can Expect to Be In Court a Long Time.

If you hire an attorney to represent you in Orange Beach municipal court, you will probably get in and out fairly quickly. The judge will call cases with lawyers first. After the cases with lawyers, he will move down a list calling cases one by one. The summer dockets are crowded and they usually stay crowded through the fall. After sentencing, there is a line to pay fines, court costs and go over probation paperwork. You may spend more time waiting in that line than you spend waiting for the judge to call your case.

If You Leave Court on Probation or the Pre-Trial Intervention Program, Make Sure to Follow the Rules.

If you leave Orange Beach municipal court on probation or the pre-trial intervention program, make sure to follow the rules. For driving under the influence (DUI) cases and possession of marijuana cases in Orange Brach Municipal Court, probation is common. Common probation violations include failing a drug or alcohol test or an arrest for new charges. If you violate the terms of your probation, the court referral officer (CRO) or prosecutor may file a delinquency report alleging a probation violation. On the filing of a delinquency report you will be summoned to court. You will have a hearing to answer the allegations of the delinquency report. You have the opportunity to be represented by an attorney at the probation violation hearing. If the judge finds that you violated the probation terms, the judge may sanction you with a jail sentence or extend your probation. In some cases, the judge may be able to fully revoke your probation requiring you to serve the entire jail sentence.

The same goes for the Orange Beach municipal court pre-trial intervention program. The pre-trial intervention program is a great opportunity for a second chance to avoid a conviction and keep your record clean. However, the punishment for violating the terms of the pre-trial intervention program can be much more severe than removal from the program, especially for a new arrest. If you violate the terms of the Orange Beach municipal court pre-trial intervention program, you will come back to court to see the judge. At the hearing, if the judge finds that you violated the terms of the pre-trial intervention program, the judge may immediately remove you from the program and sentence you on the charge. If the charge is driving under the influence (DUI) or possession of marijuana, the maximum sentence is a year in jail.  

A Conviction in Orange Beach Municipal Court Will Follow You Permanently

Even if it doesn’t concern you now, a conviction in Orange Beach municipal court will follow you into the future and may affect future job opportunities or your application for a professional license. In Alabama, a conviction cannot be expunged. It may seem easy to show up to court, plead guilty and take whatever punishment the judge gives you. But that decision will follow you into the future, and it might be one that you someday regret. At least consider hiring an attorney to represent you in Orange Beach municipal court. Your attorney may be able to resolve your case in a way that avoids a conviction on your record.

Brenton C. McWilliams is an attorney who lives and works in Orange Beach, Alabama. If you need representation in Orange Beach municipal court, please call (251) 215-9275 or request a consult on the consult request page.