What Usually Happens During A DUI Case?
A DUI is basically a criminal case where you are charged with ‘Driving Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol’. It is sometimes referred to as a DWI case meaning ‘Driving While Intoxicated’. Many states in America today take DUI charges very seriously and things could go from bad to worse for you in court, especially if you do not know what to do during the case proceedings.
You must understand that the basis of any DUI case depends on the circumstances under which you were arrested. The most important thing is that the police officers who pulled you over must first and foremost have a valid probable cause which led them to believe that you were either violating a law or were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The probable cause can be anything from speeding to swerving in your lane or ignoring basic road driving regulations.
Provided there is probable cause, the police will have the authority to pull you over and they at first usually demand for your license and registration. Now if your attempt to get your driving documents proves that you are intoxicated (for example if your are fidgeting) or smell from your breathe convinces the officers that you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, then you will be well on your way to being charged with DUI.
Remember that all the observations on your behavior that the officers will make during your arrest will be included in the police report. The report will be handed over to you during the arraignment. However the police report alone will not be enough for the prosecution to put up a strong case against you in court.
As a result you will have to undergo a number of tests to prove that your Body Alcohol Content (BAC) level was way above the acceptable range. Currently in most states, anything above 0.08 is considered to be high for driving and if it exceeds 0.12, then you’ll have a serious DUI case to answer. All in all, the main tests that are normally done include:
The Preliminary Alcohol Screening Test (PAS)
The alcohol breath test is often referred to as the Preliminary Alcohol Screen test. The breath test is often taken right away and usually indicates the type of drugs you have taken and the BAC level. If your BAC level is above the stipulated threshold of 0.08 the officers will proceed with your arrest.
Field Sobriety Tests
It is also procedural that the officers should conduct some field sobriety tests to further certify your level of intoxication. The field sobriety tests that are ordinarily given include standing on one foot while counting and walking about 8-10 steps (heel to toe) and then you will be asked to turn around in a particular way and walk back while counting.
While undertaking the field sobriety tests, police officers will be looking for any of the following cues:
- Lack of balance
- Stepping off the line
- Excessive use of arms to increase balance
- Lose of balance when turning or turning incorrectly
- Starting walking sooner than required
- Taking the wrong number of steps
If you do not perform favorably on the two above tests, the officers will take you back to the station for the final test which is often the Blood Test. This will also help to ascertain your BAC level. Just so you know anything above 0.08 spells trouble.
What if I Refuse to Take the Tests?
You may refuse to take the tests, but it isn’t advisable. First of all, refusing to take any of the sobriety tests as asked of you by the police officers will result in an immediate suspension of your driving license. Secondly, some states for instance Alaska, have jail time for any driver who refuses to take the test.
The prosecution could also use your refusal as grounds to argue that you were guilty of the DUI charge and this could strongly influence the court rulings against you. Lastly, refusal can make you be forced to get an ignition interlock device for your car which is an expense you don’t need.
Bottom-line is refusal to take sobriety tests is not really the wisest thing to do. It simply puts you in a much tighter spot.
Arrest and Detention
If the police had reason to believe that you were intoxicated while driving, they will take your license from you on the spot, offer you a temporary license and lock you up in a local jail. At the jail you will be booked and have your offenses cited. You may be released when you sober up, someone comes to pick you up or are bailed out by the judge.
1st Court Appearance
In most instances, your first appearance in court will be the morning after your arrest. The first appearance is mainly meant for the arraignment and is when you will have sight of the police report filed during your arrest. If you will not have hired a private lawyer, you will be assigned a Public Defender to act as your attorney.
Once you step before a judge, the attorney will “Waiver a Reading” (meaning your charges won’t be read aloud), enter a “Not Guilty” plea for you and then demand a Jury Trial on your behalf. After this, depending on the DA, the judge will either release you on bail or not.
It is during your first appearance that the judge will suspend your license based upon the circumstances surrounding your arrest. However you can file for a Hardship Hearing if you feel that without your license you will have difficulty getting to and from work, taking your kids to school, going to the grocery shop or going for the doctor’s appointments on time. The gist here is that you must prove or present evidence of hardship due to your suspended license. Bear in mind that a Hardship Hearing ought to be scheduled within three days after the arraignment. So there’s no time to waste.
2nd Court Appearance
Your second appearance in court will be the actual court day. Normally one of two things will happen during your second appearance and each will trigger a different turn of events. Essentially, you can either plead Guilty (thus withdraw your initial plea of ‘Not Guilty’) or stick to your ‘Not Guilty’ plea.
The DA often makes a plea bargain to the defendant’s attorney during the second court appearance. Of course this will depend on many variables such as your BAC level, whether or not you caused an accident and someone got hurt, and whether this is your first drunk driving offense. If your BAC level was not over 0.12, no accident was caused, no one got hurt and this is your first offense; the DA is likely to offer a Driving While Impaired charge (DWAI) which is not considered a crime but merely a violation.
Overall, if the plea is good for you, you will be required to withdraw your initial ‘Not Guilty’ plea and plead guilty. At this time you can also prepare your own Pre-Sentencing Report to show your good side. The court will be given the report before your sentencing. Once this happens the case will be turned over to the judge for sentencing in about six-eight weeks.
Sticking to Your Not Guilty Plea
Well if you choose to stick to your initial Not Guilty Plea, you and your attorney should be ready to battle out your case in court. Things may not always go your way but if your attorney knows the right strings to pull and depending on the circumstances of your case, you may just end up triumphing.
If you choose this path, the prosecution will use your field sobriety test performance, driving pattern and chemical test results to prove that you are indeed guilty. The work of your attorney will be to meticulously cross-examine prosecution witnesses, which is often the arresting police officer and the chemist from the crime lab, so that he/she (your attorney) can create reasonable doubt of your performance in each of those tests as declared by the prosecution witnesses.
Your attorney can further win the case and get all your charges dismissed through any of the following grounds:
- There was no concrete Probable Cause for your arrest.
- If you were not read your Miranda rights upon your arrest.
- If the genuineness of the field sobriety test or breathalyzer is questionable.
- In case your blood test results got lost.
- If the arresting officer did not appear for the hearing.
On the other hand, if you lose the case and you are therefore found guilty and convicted, the court may do any of the following:
- Impose a fine on you.
- Suspend your license for a given period of time.
- Increase the points on your license.
- Sentence you to some jail time or schedule you for community service.
- Put you on Probation or Parole
- Demand that you participate in a drunk driver education program.
- Demand that you pay a number of statutory fees to help cover the state’s expenses on DUI/DWI cases.
3rd Court Appearance
Assuming that you chose to accept the DA’s plea offer and plead guilty, there will be a Pre-Sentencing conference held on the day of the third appearance in court to review your Pre-Sentencing Report. Needless to say, you will want to make sure that your Pre-Sentencing Report is convincing enough and really portrays you in good light despite your charges.
Be aware that your third appearance in court will be your sentencing date. Usually you will be asked if you have anything to say by the judge before sentencing. Take this opportunity to say how sorry you are for what you did and go ahead to add that you will not ever be brought in front of a court again for similar charges. This is also the time you want to use to apologize to any relevant parties and your family. Doing all these may make you a little uncomfortable but it is certainly necessary to show remorse and land you a better more favorable ruling from the Judge.