Your first court appearance is usually for arraignment, where you will be advised of your trial rights. The prosecutor will ask you to confirm your identity, formally charge you and ask you to enter a plea. If you wish to contest the charge, you must enter a plea of not guilty. The judge will then ask if you want a judge or a jury trial. You should always ask for a jury trial in order to keep all of your options open until you have retained a lawyer.
The judge, in concluding the arraignment, will decide whether any conditions should be imposed on you pending trial
For first time offenders with relatively low breath or blood test results, the typical conditions, if any, are don't drive after drinking, or don't consume alcohol or non-prescribed drugs pending trial.
For defendants with prior offenses, or relatively high breath test results, the conditions can include attendance at AA meetings, installation of an ignition interlock device, or the imposition of substantial bail after the arraignment you will be given notice to appear for a pre-trial hearing.
The Pre-trial Hearing
The pre-trial hearing is scheduled at your arraignment, and is intended to provide the opportunity for your lawyer and the prosecutor to discuss the case, explore plea bargaining options, and to determine whether the parties have exchanged all information required by court rules.
Continuances of the pre-trial hearing are not uncommon. Typically the hearing is continued because the defense needs to:
- Obtain court ordered information, such as police radio tapes, toxicology reports, documents relating to the breath test, accident reconstruction reports, missing pages from police reports, etc.;
- Complete witness interviews;
- Complete independent investigations;
- Retain expert witness;
- Locate missing witnesses;
- Obtain alcohol evaluations; and/or Conduct additional negotiations with the prosecutor.
- If no continuance is needed and no acceptable plea bargain has been offered, your attorney will note various legal motions, schedule a hearing for them to be heard and schedule a trial date.
The Motions Hearing
The motions hearing can be the most important hearing in your defense, because it is at this hearing that the judge considers legal challenges to the admissibility of the prosecutors evidence, and a ruling in your favor can result in evidence being excluded from your trial, including evidence of a blood or breath test, the results of some or all of the field sobriety tests, or adverse statements you may have made. Successful pre-trial motions often compel the prosecutor to make an advantageous plea bargain offer, or can result in the dismissal of the charge!
Most courts will schedule the motions hearing for a date well in advance of the trial. Some courts, however, schedule most motions for the morning of trial.
The court will rule on most motions immediately, but it may reserve ruling until after additional legal memoranda (called briefs) are filed arguing points of law applicable to the facts of the case.
The Readiness Hearing
The court will schedule a readiness hearing shortly before the date your case is scheduled to go to trial. At this hearing you have five options:
- Continue the case if there is a valid reason to do so (unavailable witness, failure of one side to have provided information to the other side as required by a previous order of the court, conflict in scheduling, etc.)
- Plead guilty as charged
- Accept an advantageous plea bargain offer
- File a petition for deferred prosecution
- Set the case for trial
A DUI jury trial typically lasts two days. It may last as short as a day if there is no blood or breath test, and if there are few witnesses. Rarely does it last three days or more.
After the court considers preliminary matters, the first thing that will occur is jury selection (called voir dire). This is the process whereby both sides ask the prospective jurors questions to determine their biases, views on police, DUI's, etc., to enable them to excuse up to three jurors the defense attorney feels may be adverse to the defense. (The prosecutor has the same opportunity)
After the jury is selected both lawyers give opening statements in which they outline for the jury what they expect the evidence to show. The defense attorney may choose to give his or her opening statement after the prosecutor has rested his or her case.
The prosecutor then presents his or her witnesses. Typically those witnesses include:
- All investigating officers;
- Any civilian witnesses or hospital personnel that may be available and favorable to the prosecution;
- Various “expert witnesses” from the State Patrol breath test detachment or the state's toxicology lab, both of whom will testify that the breath testing device was operated and maintained in accordance with all required state statutes and regulations governing breath testing; or
- In the case of a blood draw case, the person who drew the blood and the toxicology lab technician who analyzed the blood will be called.
- At the conclusion of the prosecutor's case, the defense may, but is not required to present evidence. In most cases, much of the defense has already been presented through the defense attorney's vigorous cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses.
Typical defense witnesses include:
- People you were with prior to being stopped by the police who can testify to the amount you had to drink, your apparent state of sobriety, unimpaired coordination, speech and appearance;
- Passengers in your car who can testify to the above plus your driving and performance of the roadside tests;
- People you may have called from your car after the stop or from the police station who can testify to your speech;
- The public defender or other lawyer you called from the station who can testify to your speech, the appropriateness of your questions and your ability to understand and follow instructions;
- Anyone you called or who saw you after release who can testify to your sobriety, coordination, speech and appearance; and
Any experts retained to challenge the accuracy/reliability of the breath or blood test.
- Defense investigators who have interviewed prosecution witnesses, including the arresting officer, photographed or videotaped the road traveled and the scene of the field sobriety tests, or who is an expert on the limitations of “field sobriety testing.”
- The defendant also has the option to testify, but cannot be required to. Most juries want to hear from the defendant personally, but there may be sound reasons your attorney will recommend against testifying. While the decision rests with the defendant, the defense attorney's advice should be considered very carefully.
- After all the evidence is presented, the judge instructs the jury as to what the law is that they are expected to apply to the facts of the case. Then both lawyers present closing arguments.
Following argument, the jury will commence deliberations, which can last anywhere from 15 minutes to one or more days. Only three outcomes are possible at this point:
- All six jurors can vote to acquit and the case will be over;
- All six jurors can vote to convict and the defendant will be found guilty; or
- The jurors can deadlock without reaching a unanimous verdict. This results in a “hung” jury and the judge will declare a mistrial.
- Depending on how the vote went (i.e. was it 5-1 to acquit or 5-1 to convict, or something in between), the prosecutor has the option of re-trying the case at a future date, offering a plea bargain to a reduced charge, or dismissing the case.