A brief description of the DUI court process that one may possibly encounter in a DUI case is provided below. There are many DUI attorneys to choose from, but among the many lawyers who practice law, it is important to select from one who is specifically experienced in practicing DUI law. Prior to hiring an attorney, we recommend that you familiarize yourself with what happens after you get a DUI with respect to the court process and legal proceedings by reading the information below.
The DUI Court Process
After the police officer stops you for DUI, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on what jurisdiction you are charged in, for you to make your first court appearance. After you are charged with DUI, here are the general hearings that you should expect to attend assuming that your case goes all the way to trial:
At the arraignment, which is typically the first part of the DUI court process, you are formally charged with DUI, advised of your rights, and you enter a plea (i.e., do you plead guilty or not guilty to the DUI charges), and terms for your release are established (i.e., will you be required to post bail or not, will you be required to install an interlock ignition device on your vehicle, will you be required to undergo an alcohol evaluation, etc). Even if do not want to go to trial and contest the DUI allegation(s), it is generally advantageous to enter a not guilty plea so that you can attempt to negotiate the best possible plea bargain in your case. Among your rights is the right to have a lawyer which can be appointed at little or no charge if you are unable to afford a lawyer.
At the arraignment, the judge will determine what conditions will be imposed on you pending your trial. If you are being charged with DUI for the first time and have a low breath or blood alcohol reading (BAC), you may have relatively limited conditions imposed on you. However, if you have prior DUIs or a high BAC (i.e., .15 or above), you will face more stringent conditions which can include installation of an interlock device on your vehicle, posting high bail, attending AA meetings, etc.
At the arraignment, a pre-trial hearing will be set.
2. Pretrial Hearing
At the pretrial hearing, your attorney and prosecutor may discuss your DUI case including possible plea options and whether disclosure of evidence by both parties as required by law is complete (i.e., is there any information that your attorney requested which the prosecutor did not provide). A continuance or request to reset the pretrial date is often made for reasons such as incomplete disclosure of evidence by the parties, your attorney needs more time to discuss the available plea options with you, more time is requested to allow you to complete certain requirements such as obtaining an alcohol evaluation, or your attorney needs more time to evaluate the case (i.e., the attorney may want to interview witnesses or further investigate the facts).
The majority of cases are settled at the pretrial where the client may be allowed to enter into the plea agreement or another court date is set to enter into the plea agreement. If no plea agreement can be reached, trial dates as well as other dates are set such as motions due date and trial readiness hearing.
3. Motions Hearing
If there are evidentiary issues involved in your case which your DUI lawyer and prosecutor are unable to agree on, a motions hearing can be set where your attorney challenges the sufficiency or admissibility of the prosecutor’s evidence and requests that such evidence be suppressed and not used against you at trial (i.e., your attorney may request that the breath or blood test be suppressed). A successful motion by your attorney can either lead to the outright dismissal of the DUI charges or a better plea offer from the prosecutor. While most courts will schedule a motions hearing several days prior to trial, some courts will schedule it right on the day of trial.
4. Readiness Hearing
A readiness hearing which is scheduled shortly before the trial date is where the court determines whether the parties are ready to proceed to trial. Either party can request a continuance of the trial date at the hearing if they are not prepared to go to trial. The lack of availability of witnesses, scheduling conflicts, and other reasons can be provided for why the parties are not prepared to proceed to trial. Options short of trial may also be entered into such as where the parties have reached a plea agreement.
The average DUI trial takes place over two days. If there is no blood or breath test, the trial may not last for more than a day, but if there are complex issues addressed during trial or several witnesses testify then the trial may carry over into the third day.
After the court considers preliminary matters, jury selection takes place. The jury selection process is called “voir dire” during which both sides ask the prospective jurors questions to determine whether he or she can serve as a fair and unbiased juror. For example, if the prospective juror states that she believes that anyone who drinks and drives is automatically guilty of DUI and is unwilling to change her opinion to abide by the existing legal standards which are applicable to determining one’s guilt in a DUI trial then the juror will be dismissed from the jury panel for not being able to serve as a fair and impartial juror. While some prospective jurors can be dismissed by the Court because they are clearly biased and will not be able to follow the law, both your attorney and the prosecutor will have the opportunity to exclude a certain number of jurors based on the perception that the prospective juror may not look upon their legal position favorably.
After jury selection is complete and the jury is sworn in, both the prosecutor and your DUI attorney will make opening statements to the jury where a summary of what they believe the evidence will show is provided. The defense attorney has the option of not making an opening statement until the prosecutor has presented all of the state’s evidence against the defendant.
Regardless of whether your attorney makes an opening statement in the beginning or waits for the prosecutor to present his or her evidence before making the opening statement, once the prosecutor has made an opening statement then the prosecutor is prepared to move on to the next step and call his or her witnesses to the stand. The witnesses may include investigating officers, expert witnesses, and any witnesses to the alleged DUI allegation(s). After the prosecutor examines or asks questions to the witnesses, the defense is provided with the opportunity to cross-examine or ask questions of the prosecution witnesses. After the prosecutor has called all of the state’s witnesses, your DUI attorney may then call your witnesses to testify. However, in many cases the defense attorney will simply rely on the cross-examination of the prosecution’s witnesses to establish the client’s case. You, as the defendant, have the right not to testify and your DUI lawyer may prefer, depending on the facts and circumstances of your case, to not call you to testify.
After both sides have presented their evidence through the examination or cross-examination of the witnesses, the judge then instructs the jury on the law and legal standards which will be followed by the jurors in determining the guilt or lack thereof of for the DUI allegation(s). The prosecutor and your attorney then make a closing argument to the jury in which they summarize the evidence and what conclusions should be drawn from it. After the closing arguments, the jury then has the opportunity to discuss and consider the evidence in arriving at a guilty or not guilty verdict. After the jury makes its decision, the judge will then read the verdict out in court. If the jury is unable to arrive at a unanimous verdict then a “hung” jury exits which results in the judge declaring a mistrial. The prosecutor then will make a decision on whether to continue with prosecution or dismiss the charge(s).