The DWI/DUI Process
Obviously, the first step in the DWI/DUI process is the stop and the arrest for driving while intoxicated or under the influence. Following your arrest and first appearance which is usually held by video from the jail, your case will be set for arraignment. The arraignment is really a formality where you appear before the court to plead not guilty. It would be extremely unwise to plead guilty at the arraignment, though it sometimes happens with unrepresented defendants. Because it is a mere formality for the purpose of entering a plea of not guilty, most judges will allow a defendant to waive the arraignment through a Waiver of Appearance. To waive the arraignment, you must be represented by an attorney, and that attorney must file a Waiver of Appearance which will act as your not guilty plea without the necessity of your appearance in court. This same document can be used to waive your appearance at all pre-trial hearings if your judge allows this practice.
There are a number of deadlines that commence at the time of your arraignment or the filing of your waiver of arraignment. These deadline vary slightly depending upon the court you are in. The most important deadlines deal with discovery which is provided by the prosecutor to your attorney. Discovery is basically the proof that the District Attorney has its file proving your guilt . In addition to requiring the District Attorney to provide any documents, tests, recordings, admissions, and so on that the State intends to use against you at trial, the State must also make available any witnesses that it intends to call to testify against you which would include the officers involved in your arrest, and any other witnesses to the DW/DUI. Typically, in DWI/DUI cases, the State has 30 days from the date of arraignment to provide discovery.
During this time, your case will be set for a pre-trial conference. As mentioned, many judges will allow you to waive your appearance at all pre-trial hearings. Your attorney would file a Waiver of Appearance for these purposes along with the waiver of arraignment discussed above. The purpose of pre-trial conferences is for the attorneys on both sides to report to the judge the progress on the case. Often times, the District Attorney has not provided discovery and has not made State’s witnesses available for interview. Even more common, the police officers have not cooperated with interviews. These issues would be discussed with the Court and typically the court will instruct the District Attorney to cooperate in the discovery process. If the police officers have not cooperated with interviews, many judges will require that subpoenas be issued to compel their attendance at the scheduled interviews.
Should the District Attorney fail to abide by the discovery deadlines or the judge's instructions, your attorney will move for a dismissal. Unfortunately, many judges will give the State the benefit of the doubt and refuse the motion for dismissal. Other judges are more respectful of the rules of procedure. Some view it as a matter of judicial economy and will dismiss the case as a waste of judicial resources when the State repeatedly violates the deadlines, and generally neglects the rules. It depends on the judge which makes your decision of whether or not to exercise your right to get rid of the judge through the filing of a Peremptory Recusal so important. Those judges that do not hold the District Attorney to the rules are very difficult for DWI/DUI defendants.
As discovery proceeds, other issues may arise that impact the outcome of your case. There may be facts discovered or other considerations during discovery that warrant a variety of motions such as motions for dismissal, motions for suppression of evidence, and motions to exclude witnesses among others. If these are filed, they will be set for pre-trial motion hearings. Again, if you have waived your appearance for all pre-trial hearings, your attendance will not be required.
As your case proceeds, the option of a plea will come up. Whether or not you want to plea will depend upon the nature of the charges against you, the facts of your case, the evidence, and possible consequences of a plea versus those at trial. Unfortunately, it often also depends on the judge that you have. The decision of whether or not to take a plea can be very difficult. Often there are greater penal consequences associated with losing at trial versus taking a more generous plea offer. If you decide to take the plea, then you will enter your plea at the next trial setting, or plea conference depending upon the court's practice. If you decide to go to trial, then you and your attorney will begin preparing for trial. If you win at trial, you go home with a clean record.
In the event that you enter a plea or go to trial and lose, then the next stage is sentencing. Unless it is a simple (below .16 breath alcohol score) first DWI/DUI, your case will be set for a sentencing hearing. In many cases, prior to this hearing, the probation department will prepare a pre-sentence report with its recommendations for sentencing. The sentencing on a DWI/DUI will follow the sentencing guidelines set by the State. The Judge can follow those recommendations, the recommendations of the District Attorney, the recommendations or your attorney, or issue a sentence based upon his or her own judgment.
There are many decisions to make at each step of this process. Every case is unique, including yours, and the decisions are determined by the facts of your case. Give us a call, email us or fill out the form on this page if you would like to discuss your case.
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