Every DUI case that ends up in Court goes through the same procedure to ensure uniformity and comply with the right to due process, the following is a breakdown of the steps involved:
When you were released you were given a notice to appear in court. This first court appearance is called the arraignment. We will be appearing for you at this appearance; 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 we are able to appear on your behalf, and you are free to go about your normal business.) At the arraignment, we will enter a “not guilty” plea and schedule your case for a pretrial conference, or we may not enter any plea at all, and simply 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 us time to investigate your Kern County DUI case. We will seek to obtain all relevent discovery that pertains to the case, including all reports and documentary evidence produced by law enforcement. We will obtain the results of any breath or blood test that you took when you were arrested.
In addition, if your DUI case involved a blood or urine test, we will oftentimes get a court order for the sample to be sent out for independent testing by our private lab. There, we 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 hearing. Although the re-testing of the sample may involve additional costs, the expense is sometimes worth incurring. Some cases may not justify a retest.
Following the arraignment in Court, your DUI case will be set for a pretrial conference. The pretrial conference is an opportunity for us to meet with the local District Attorney or City 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 typical, and candidly, a delay in the case nearly always benefits the accused.
During the pretrial phase, we may 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 challenging the initial stop and detention, motions to dismiss for constitutional rights violations, or motions to force the prosecutor to turn over additional discovery. Some of these motions can be accomplished without your being present in court; others will require your presence. When we are setting your case for a motion that requires you to be there, we will do our utmost to give you as much advance notice as possible, so that you can make whatever arrangements are necessary to be present. At the conclusion of the pretrial phase, the prosecutor will often make an offer for a disposition to the case. 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. We will, of course, review the particular circumstances of your DUI case with you to assist you in deciding whether to accept or reject the prosecutor’s pre-trial offer. If the plea-bargain is accepted, this will bring an end to the DUI criminal 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), or having a restricted driver’s license. The terms and conditions of probation vary widely, as they will reflect the plea-bargain that is unique to your DUI case. If there is no negotiated disposition, 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. 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.