Criminal Court Process

Criminal Court ProcessGetting arrested on suspicion of DUI / DWI can be a frightening experience. Suspected drunk drivers face a legal labyrinth that can seem daunting. A drunk driving case generates two separate cases – in court, and at the Department of Motor Vehicles. A California attorney with experience defending drinking and driving cases can help drivers navigate through both the DMV hearing and the court case.

The first stage in any DUI / DWI court process is the arrest. Most arrests for a misdemeanor driving under the influence case occur when police observe signs of intoxication in the driver’s physical appearance and/ or erratic driving patterns. These observations form the basis of “probable cause”, which is the legal basis for the arrest.

Once arrested, a driver may be held in custody and must post bond to be released, unless released on his or her own recognizance, or OR. Bond, otherwise known as bail, is like an insurance policy guaranteeing the driver’s appearance at the next court date. The amount of bail is determined by a judge, based on the seriousness of the offense.

If held in custody, then a driver must be arraigned within 48 to 72 hours after the arrest, unless it occurs on a weekend, in which case it can be extended for one day. If the driver is not held in custody, the arraignment will be set at a later date.

At the arraignment, the judge will advise a driver of the pending charges, and the individual will be read his or her rights. The rights afforded to criminal defendants include the right to an attorney, the right to a jury trial, the right to confront witnesses, the right against self-incrimination, and the right to receive evidence to be used against the individual in the criminal proceeding. Also, at this time, a driver will be asked to enter a plea before the court. Possible pleas include not guilty, “nolo contendere” commonly known as no contest or guilty.

The next step in the court process is to submit pretrial motions. Pretrial motions may be submitted at the arraignment, but it is also customary for the pretrial motions to be heard at a later hearing date. Common pretrial motions include a motion to suppress evidence, discovery motions, motions to dismiss, and other motions in limine.

At some point during this process, a prosecutor may offer the driver a plea bargain, which gives the defendant an opportunity to plead guilty to a lesser charge. Sometimes taking a plea bargain is a good idea, sometimes it’s not. An experienced DUI / DWI lawyer can evaluate an individual case to determine whether a plea bargain is a good deal.

The final stage of the court process is the trial. Once a trial date is set, it is usually expressed as a “0 of 10 date” meaning that the DUI defendant’s speedy trial rights will not be violated if the trial begins on the trial date, or within 10 days of that date. If the trial does not begin on or before the expiration of the last day for trial, the case must be dismissed. If the last day for trial falls on a weekend day or holiday, the next court day is the last day.

Once the trial begins, both the defense attorney and prosecutor participate in selecting a jury. During this process, they engage in voir dire, or the examination of prospective jurors, to determine the juror’s qualifications for service. At this time jurors may be excused “for cause” or at the discretion of the attorneys, which is known as a peremptory challenge. Once the jury is chosen, the trial begins.

DUI / DWI trials usually last several days. At the trial, both the defense and the prosecution give opening statements, directly examine their own witnesses, cross examine the opposing witnesses, and finally give closing arguments. The judge then gives the jury instructions on how to apply the facts of the case to the law.

The next step is jury deliberation. The jurors are excused to the jury room, where they are given their first opportunity to discuss the facts of the case. When the jury concludes deliberation, they announce their verdict to the court – guilty or not guilty. Although the jury decides on a verdict, it does not determine the defendant’s sentence. The judge decides the appropriate punishment, which can be set by law, and may be enhanced by the facts of the case.

Although our justice system is designed to protect both the defendant and the public, the defendant needs someone looking after his or her best interests. An attorney who specializes in defending DUI / DWI cases can ensure that anyone accused of drunk driving receives the fairest treatment possible in the court system.

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