Overview of the DUI Process
Unlike getting stop for a speeding ticket, where an officer stops you, gives you a ticket for speeding with a court date which you can appear at to fight the ticket, you go to court on that date and try to fight the ticket, the Judge hands down his or her verdict where you either pay a fine or don’t, and basically the case is over at that point. Unfortunately a DUI or DWI case is nothing like a traffic ticket case, and we are going to explain to you the various steps in the process and what a person can expect to happen. There will be some variation in the steps from state to state but the overall process is very similar.
How to Handle a DUI Stop
When an individual is stopped on suspicion of drunk driving, the first thing the officer is going to do is ask you if you’ve been drinking, you being an honest person tell him yes that you’ve had 1 or 2 beers. This is the officer’s que to start the DUI process. The officer will then ask you to step out of the vehicle and perform some tests for him or her, these tests are referred to as the SFST’s or Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.
The first test is typically the “walk-and-turn” test where you will walk a line one foot in front of the other while taking 9 steps in each direction. The next test the officer will have you do is going to be the “stand on one leg” test. Usually after these two tests the officer has made a determination as to whether or not he or she feels you have been driving drunk and will then place you under arrest to be taken down to the station for the official BAC test.
The DUI Booking Process
Once the arrest and official BAC testing has been completed and the results show a BAC level of .08% or greater you will be booked into jail for drunk driving. During the booking process the officer will record your information including name, address, age, physical characteristics, etc. The officer will then file a report of the alleged crime of drunk driving and any other charges that may be brought against you.
They will cross check existing records to see if you are in the system for a previous crime. You will be finger printed and photographed. Your personal belongings will be confiscated and gone through and placed in holding to be returned to you upon release. After being searched you will be placed in a holding cell until you are able to arrange for bail or until your arraignment hearing, whichever comes first.
The DUI Arraignment
The arraignment hearing is the first time you and/or your lawyer will appear in court before a Judge. The hearing can happen within a day or so of being booked or it can take a few weeks to happen, it all depends on how backed up the system is with cases in the County you were arrested in. At the hearing the charges against you are reviewed by the Judge, the Judge will then ask you or your lawyer how you plead “guilty” or “not guilty” or “no contest”.
The Judge will then issue dates for future court dates. Even though most lawyers are going to tell you that you do not need to be present at the arraignment hearing, if you can make it to the hearing we recommend that you attend the hearing so that you are fully briefed on what is going to happen next versus just relying on second information from your lawyer.
DUI Plea Bargain
In the plea bargain, you will not be present, this will be a meeting between your lawyer and the DA to come an agreement on the plea you will enter. This is where it is important you have a skilled DUI lawyer on your side that has your back as it were and is going to work hard to get the best deal possible for you in order to avoid going to trial.
A plea bargain often involves the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser charge. The charge might be a “wet-reckless” charge instead of a DUI charge. Make sure your lawyer fully explains the lesser charge to you so you understand what you are agreeing to and what the consequences are. If a plea bargain is reached, a trial in the case can be avoided.
The Pre-trial Motions
During the pre-trial motions your lawyer and the prosecution address the Judge in your case and basically agree upon ground rules that each side must follow during the trial phase. The typical motions include requests for evidence to be submitted or excluded from trial, and arguments for or against witness testimony. This is a straight forward process.
If you are found guilty during the trial by Judge or Jury, then the punishments will be handed down by the Judge during the sentencing. The most common sentencing in a drunk driving case include: probation, DUI school/program attendence, the fines you must pay, jail time you face (if any), not being allowed to drive without an SR-22 filing, and any other sentencing hand down by the Judge.
Here again if you go it alone in court and do not know that these tests are not approved for use by officers, the results could be going against you in court.
If you plead “not guilty” and a plea bargain was not reached, you will be going to trial. The trial process consists of several steps, these include: jury selection, opening statements by the prosecution and defense, the state’s case, the defense case, closing arguments, jury deliberation, and a final verdict.