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The Court Process in DUI Cases

´╗┐After your arrest, you were given a notice to appear in Court (this was either a ticket or a paper entitled "promise to appear, own recognizance"). In California, this first court appearance is called the arraignment. If you hire a private DUI Attorney you do not need to be present. One of the benefits of hiring a private attorney to represent you in a misdemeanor DUI case is that they are able to appear on your behalf, and you are free to go about your normal business and sometimes avoid costly travel if you live outside the area of your arrest.

At the arraignment, the attorney will enter a "not guilty" plea and schedule your case for a pretrial conference, or the attorney may elect to not enter any plea at all, and continue the arraignment until a future date. Neither course of action is better than the other; there are simply different customs in different courts, and the action that we take initially is designed to allow the lawyer time to investigate your DUI case and obtain additional discovery. If your DUI case involved a blood or urine test, it is common to get a court order for the blood sample to be split for independent testing by a private laboratory. There, an expert will check for alcohol content, as well as preservative levels. Integrity of the sample (or lack thereof) is a key issue for both court and the DMV.

Following the arraignment, your DUI case will be set for a pretrial conference. The pretrial conference is an opportunity for your lawyer to meet with the prosecutor, review the DUI case for possibility of settlement, and perhaps get a plea-bargain offer. Because of congested court calendars, it is not unusual for a DUI case to have a series of pretrial conferences. This is commonplace and delay is sometimes in your best interests.

During the pretrial phase, there may be a need to file one or more motions. Motions are simply a formal request that the judge order something. Examples of typical motions in a DUI case are motions to suppress evidence (PC1538.5), or motions to force the prosecutor to turn over additional discovery. A successful motion to suppress will usually result in a dismissal of the charges.

Many of these motions can be litigated without your being present in court; others will require your actual presence. At the conclusion of the pretrial phase, the prosecutor will typically make an offer for a plea-bargain. This offer may be an opportunity to plead to a lesser charge, such as reckless driving, or may simply be a negotiation about the consequences to be imposed if you admit to driving under the influence. Because every case is different, what is a good deal in one case may be a bad deal in another. Your attorney will review the particular circumstances of your DUI case with you to assist you in deciding whether to accept or reject the prosecutor's plea-bargain offer.

If the plea-bargain is accepted, this will bring an end to the DUI Court phase of the case. Typical plea-bargains include being placed on probation for a period of time (as short as one year or as long as five years, depending upon the nature of the DUI case), as well as the imposition of a variety of terms and conditions of probation. Typical terms and conditions include paying a fine, taking educational courses (DUI classes), Mother's Against Drunk Driving classes (MADD) and Hospital and Morgue Programs (HAM). The terms and conditions of probation vary widely, as they will reflect the plea-bargain that is unique to your DUI case. If the plea-bargain is not accepted, the case will be set for a jury trial. Every person charged with a crime in California has the Constitutional right to a jury trial, where 12 citizens are selected from the community to listen to the evidence, be instructed on the applicable law, and render a verdict by applying the facts to the law.

A jury trial generally lasts about a week or so, depending upon which courthouse your case is assigned to, for example in many Los Angeles Courts the Judges do trials half the day, thereby extending the time it takes to finish a trial. A jury trial in a DUI case is like any other criminal case. It begins with jury selection, and proceeds through opening statements, examination and cross-examination of each of the witnesses, closing arguments, jury instructions, deliberations, and verdict.

If you are charged with a violation of Vehicle Code Section 23152(b), driving with a blood or breath alcohol level of .08% or higher, and if you are acquitted of that charge (meaning that all 12 jurors agree you are not guilty of the charge), then the DMV case is automatically set aside. This is the only thing that can happen in court that will impact the DMV Hearing. Unfortunately, if you are charged with a refusal an acquittal of the criminal DUI charges will have no impact on your DMV suspension proceedings.

The DUI Court process is a complicated maze for the laymen, having an experienced DUI Attorney on your side can make the difference between getting convicted and having the DUI dismissed or reduced. Call us today to speak with an experienced lawyer about your California drunk driving case, toll free at 1-877-213-4453.

 

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