DUI Court Process
First DUI Court Appearance
After you have been arrested the first DUI court appearance, also referred to as an arraignment, will be held. This is not a time to “go it alone.” An experienced DUI lawyer will be able to advise you regarding the practices of a particular court and judge so that you can be prepared for whatever might happen at arraignment.
This court appearance will typically involve a reading of the charges by the judge or prosecutor and then the entry of a plea of either guilty or not guilty in open court. Some people wonder how they can ethically enter a plea of not guilty when the breath test or other evidence against them seems strong. Ultimately, a not guilty plea legally means “not proved.” This type of plea preserves the status quo so that an attorney can investigate all the facts, evaluate the evidence, and map out the strategy that best helps the client.
Also at the arraignment, the judge will set the conditions of release. Despite the fact that you have not been convicted of the charge, the judge can order you to do things that can feel very much like you have been convicted. For instance, the judge has the power to impose an ignition interlock as a condition of driving. They can also order you not to consume alcohol or require you to wear an alcohol-sensing bracelet on your ankle (called SCRAM) to report to the court immediately if it senses any consumption of alcohol. Depending upon the facts, a judge can impose a bail requirement at your first DUI court appearance, even if you posted bail to get out of jail.
Washington DUI Court
It is important to look at your paperwork since you may have a court date coming up right away and not be aware of it. Some courts, such as Seattle Municipal Court, schedule arraignments within a couple of days of the arrest. It is not uncommon for DUI arraignments to be held on a Saturday in this court. Other courts have a different procedure and the arraignment might not be until several weeks or even a month after the arrest.
During the arraignment, most DUI courts set the case for a “pretrial conference.” This is a scheduling conference at which subsequent court dates are set. However, it also is an opportunity for defense counsel to negotiate with the prosecution. It is not uncommon for several pretrial conferences to occur over a span of several months.
It is hard to have a DUI court case hanging over one’s head that long, but experience has shown that in most instances, taking the time to fully prepare the case will lead to a better outcome. At the pretrial conference, the arresting officer is not present and testimony is not taken. At this hearing, the lawyer does all the talking. Importantly, you cannot be made to testify in court at any stage, including pretrial. The only thing a judge will typically ask the accused during this time is whether you understand that a new date is being set and that you agree to it.
DUI Court Motions Hearing
The next logical stage in most cases is a “motions hearing,” which is scheduled after the last pretrial conference. A motions hearing is an opportunity for the defense to raise procedural or factual issues that, if successful, will lead to dismissal of the case or a ruling that some of the prosecution’s evidence cannot be used at trial.
Testimony is usually taken from the arresting officer and the defense gets to cross examine that officer in the same fashion they would at trial. If progress is made by the defense at the motions hearing, the prosecutor may have to reconsider the case in light of the judge’s rulings or the officer’s testimony. If the prosecution’s case has been weakened during the motions hearing, the prosecutor might be persuaded to reduce the charge. Success at a motions hearing can also put the defense in an advantageous position for trial of the case.
Trial of the Case
The trial stage is when the prosecution is required to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. The outcome of the case can be decided by either a six-person jury, or in some cases a judge hears the evidence and renders the verdict. Typically, DUI trials take up to three days, depending upon the number of witnesses. Critically, the jury must be unanimous to render a verdict of not-guilty or guilty. If the jury can’t render a unanimous verdict, a “hung jury” is declared. In these instances, the prosecution has the option to bring the case to trial again.
Sentencing and DUI Conviction
Sentencing occurs after a defendant has been found guilty, whether the finding is the result of plea negotiations or a jury verdict after a trial. In either case, at sentencing the judge decides what penalties to impose. In the case of a DUI conviction, there are certain mandatory minimum penalties that the judge is required to impose. These can include jail, a fine, conditions on probation, etc. If sentencing occurs on a reduced charge, the judge can impose whatever sentence is deemed appropriate — for most non-DUI charges, there is no minimum sentence required.
In certain cases, an “agreed recommendation” is placed before the DUI court at sentencing. This is where the prosecution and the defense agree on the appropriate sentence and jointly ask the judge to impose that sentence. An agreed sentence is usually given great weight by a judge, but a judge is not bound to follow it.
Legal rulings are sometimes made by the judge during the case that the defense feels are erroneous and prejudicial. An appeal involves bringing the record of the case before an appellate judge and requesting relief in the form of a new trial or dismissal.
Contact a Knowledgeable Washington DUI Attorney
There are many procedural and legal nuances involved in DUI court cases. If you’ve been charged with a DUI, you don’t have to go through it alone — an experienced DUI attorney can help you navigate the process and work toward achieving a favorable outcome on your behalf. Providing adept advocacy and dedicated counsel, the Fox Law Firm PLLC has been fighting DUI charges for clients since 1985. Contact Attorney Jon Fox for a free consultation by calling (425) 274-9190.