Steps of a DUI Case
You’ve been arrested on charges of driving while under the influence. This is your first time, and you do not know what to expect. Here is a brief summary of what is coming your way.
You’ve probably already bailed out of jail, and so your case has been set for an initial arraignment into a magistrate court. At this hearing you will be given a criminal complaint. This is a document that charges you with the crime of driving while under the influence (DUI). This document only contains allegations, and is not evidence of your guilt. You will have the opportunity to have this document read in open court, but everyone waives this right, since who wants to have such things said about them in public?
You will also be given the opportunity to enter a plea. Of course you can plead either guilty or not guilty. Hopefully before you go to this hearing you will hire a DUI lawyer to represent you. If you do, the attorney will enter an appearance in the case, and enter a plea of not guilty for you, and when this happens the initial arraignment into magistrate court is not necessary. If you decide not to hire a DUI attorney at this point, then you will want to enter a not guilty plea yourself.
2. Driver’s License Suspension:
Although not really a step of the criminal DUI case, there is a parallel case to the DUI case, and that is the appeal of the Idaho Department of Transportation’s (DOT) automatic driver’s license suspension. When you apply for a driver’s license, whether you know it or not, you have agreed not to drive while your blood, breath, or urine contains .08 alcohol. The consequence of doing so is a 90-day automatic administrative driver’s license suspension. You are given 30 days to drive before the suspension kicks in. You are given 7 days to appeal that suspension. This is the reason why you want to immediately hire a DUI lawyer to handle your case. Otherwise you will miss these important deadlines. Missing this deadline may cause you to miss a major opportunity to retain your driver’s license.
After a not guilty plea is entered in your case, whether your attorney enters the plea, or you attend the arraignment and enter it yourself, then the case is set for a Pretrial Conference, and a Jury Trial. Before the pretrial conference, a DUI lawyer can get the police reports and examinations from the prosecuting attorney. This is called Discovery.
He will analyze the reports, and put together your defense to present to the prosecutor. Sometimes law enforcement does not conduct the standardized field sobriety tests correctly. Or sometimes law enforcement doesn’t operate the equipment correctly or follow the procedures for operating the equipment properly. Sloppy work by law enforcement can sometimes lead either to suppressed evidence, or at least reasonable doubt as to your guilt. Also the police sometimes have bad reasons for stopping you to begin with, and the DUI attorney can file a motion to suppress evidence based on an illegal stop.
4. Pretrial Conference:
At the pretrial conference, the DUI lawyer, and the prosecuting attorney attempt to resolve the case. If there were any motions filed, the attorneys might argue them at the pretrial conference, or the judge will set a motion hearing to have them presented. Sometimes a proper motion can be helpful in persuading the prosecutor to accept a better offer from the DUI attorney.
If the prosecutor and your lawyer are able work out a deal, then the case will either be dismissed or amended to a lesser charge, or you will plead to the charge in exchange for a favorable sentence. In the event of a dismissal your case is over. You will not have to worry about anything else. In the case of pleading to a lesser charge, or the charge itself in exchange for a favorable sentence, then your case will proceed to a sentencing hearing. If the DUI lawyer and the prosecuting attorney are unable to come to an agreement, then your case will proceed to a jury trial.
5. Motion Hearings:
If your case proceeds to a jury trial, your DUI lawyer will likely file pretrial motions. Possible motions your attorney might file are motions to suppress evidence, motions to exclude BAC test results, objections to the State’s use of prior bad acts, and many others. These are motions that the judge will often handle prior to a jury trial, and knowing the results will often help resolve the case.
Effect Motions Have On Plea Deals
If the Defendant loses the motions, then it will likely lead to the Defendant being offered a worse plea offer than they received prior the motion hearing. If the Defendant wins the motions, then it may result in the State making a better plea offer than they made prior to the hearing. The reason for this is because being successful at a motion hearing means that the successful party now has an advantage at the jury trial.
Motion Will Dismiss Case
Sometimes a motion will be ‘dispositive’ of the case. What this means is, sometimes when the Defendant wins, the State is forced to dismiss the case. For example, if a Defendant files a motion to suppress evidence in a DUI case due to an unlawful stop by the police offer, and the Defendant wins, the court will suppress all the evidence that was obtained as a result of the unlawful stop. The State will then be forced to Dismiss the case because they will have no evidence left to put on at a jury trial.
6. Jury Trial:
As was mentioned earlier, if the Defendant is unsuccessful in resolving the case prior to a jury trial, then the case will proceed to jury trial. At a jury trial the State will bear the burden of proving the Defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The Defendant’s DUI attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine all the State’s witnesses, and the Defendant’s DUI attorney will have the right to call any of his own witnesses in his defense. The Defendant will maintain the right to remain silent. The judge will instruct the jury that they may not infer from the Defendant’s silence that the Defendant is guilty.
DUI misdemeanor jury trial usually take one full day, and sometimes two. Very rarely will a DUI misdemeanor jury trial take three days. If the Defendant is ‘acquitted’ (i.e. found not guilty) then he will walk away from the court, and never be obligated to return on the charges.
7. Sentencing Hearing:
If the Defendant is found guilty of the charges, then the Defendant will be sentenced by the court. The court will probably set the case out for a sentencing hearing so that the Defendant can obtain an alcohol evaluation as mandated by Idaho Statute.
If the Defendant has been charged with a first time misdemeanor DUI offense then he faces six (6) months in jail, a one-thousand ($1,000) fine, or both. Additionally the Defendant will be required to obtain the alcohol evaluation and comply with its recommendations. The Defendant will be required to complete a Victim’s Panel, and the Defendant’s driver’s license will be suspended for at least 90 days and up to 180 days, 30 of those days will be absolute, meaning no driving privileges whatsoever.
The judge will typically order the Defendant to complete a year of probation. The probation will be ordered either as supervised or unsupervised probation. Sometimes the judge will withhold judgment in the case while the Defendant completes his probation. For more on Withheld Judgments, read my blog article “What is a Withheld Judgment?“
Most times a judge will not require a defendant to sit six (6) months in jail. More likely than not the court will suspend most of the jail. It will only require you to do a small jail sentence at first. The suspended jail time will remain ‘hanging over your head’ while you are placed on probation.
The purpose of the probationary period is to determine if you are capable of staying out of trouble. Also, to see if you will complete the things the court has ordered you to complete. In order to successfully complete probation will you will have to finish your jail sentence, pay your fine, complete your court ordered treatment, complete the Victim’s Panel, and comply with all terms of probation, including the term not to commit new crimes. If you are placed on unsupervised probation then you will be expected to report all these things to the court. If you are placed on supervised probation you will have a probation officer assigned to you, and you will be expected to remain in regular contact with your probation officer, and comply with the probation officer’s demands. You will also be required to pay a monthly fee to the probation officer.
9. Petition for Driving Privileges:
Once the 30 day absolute driving suspension has completed, you may petition the court for privileges. You may be able to drive to work, school, medical appointments, etc. The court will want a detailed description of where you need to drive. You will not need to go before the court again. You simply submit the petition to the court with all the required documentation. The court will generally grant you any privileges you qualify for. If you are caught driving for any other reason you will be cited for Driving Without Privileges (DWP). DWP is also a misdemeanor.
10. Dismissal of the Withheld Judgment:
If the Judge withholds judgment in your case, then you may be able to have the case dismissed after probation. But in order to have the case dismissed you must make a motion to the court. The court will grant your motion if you have not been found guilty of any probation violation. Also you must have remained compliant at all times with all conditions of your probation. The dismissal must be compatible with the public interest. For more information on Withheld Judgments, read my blog article “What is a Withheld Judgment?”. Don’t forget to make this motion because your case will not be dismissed until you do.