DUI Court Proceedings
Upon being released from custody, either on your own recognizance or after posting bail, you were either given a citation or a promise-to-appear. Either one of these will have your court date on it. Either you or your Orange County DUI attorney must appear in court on this date. In most cases this will be the first of several court dates before your case is resolved.
First Court Appearance (Arraignment)
At this first court appearance, called an arraignment, the judge tells you (or your DUI defense attorney appearing for you) exactly what the charges are. Also, your DUI lawyer will get a copy of the police report and should serve the District Attorney (DA) with a written Discovery Request.
The Discovery Request will legally compel the DA to provide other important evidence such as video tapes, audio tapes and calibration and maintenance logs for the breath or blood-testing device used in your case. Also, if you have a prior DUI and have not posted bail yet, the judge will likely set bail at the arraignment. If that’s the case, your attorney will need to have a bail bondsman present.
At this early stage a plea of “not guilty” is almost always entered and another court date, called a “pretrial conference” is set a few weeks down the road. This gives your attorney valuable time to review the police report, subpoena documents relating to the breath and blood testing devices, interview witnesses and conduct legal research on any of the various legal issues that may arise in your case. Hiring an attorney with the intelligence and skill to spot the legal issues in your case can be the difference between winning and losing.
During a series of pretrial conferences your attorney will review all the evidence the DA intends to use against you. If your attorney recognizes police conduct impacting your constitutional rights, like the lack of probable cause to stop you or the police not adequately advising you of certain important rights, then he will file a request with the court to have the evidence thrown out. This request is called a suppression motion and if it is successful it can result in your entire case being dismissed.
Preliminary Hearing (Felony Only)
If you are facing felony charges you have the right to a “preliminary hearing” at which the DA must produce enough evidence against you to justify prosecuting you. This evidentiary hearing is only available for felony cases and can be an extremely useful procedure to preview the evidence that will be used at trial.
If there are no suppression issues, your attorney must then determine if the DA can convict you with the evidence they have. You might be surprised. Can the DA prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were the one behind the wheel? Or that you drank alcohol before you drove? Or that the alcohol in your system impaired your ability to drive? Or what your blood-alcohol level was at the time of driving? These are all things the DA must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict you of a DUI.
If the evidence against you appears strong, your attorney must then determine if you have a possible defense. For example, a blood test taken an hour after you drove may show what your blood-alcohol (“BA”) was an hour after driving but it doesn’t show what your BA was at the time of driving. After you drink, it takes up to three hours for the alcohol to move from your stomach to your blood. So even though your BA may be over the limit at the time of the blood test, it may have been below the limit at the time of driving. This defense, called a “rising defense”, can be very successful with a BA fairly close to the legal limit.
If you don’t have a defense or a suppression issue and the DA’s case is strong, it falls on your attorney to negotiate the best possible deal for you. A skilled attorney must be prepared to highlight the strengths of your case so that the DA would rather avoid a trial than risk seeing your attorney “pull a rabbit out of his hat” again. Your attorney must also present you to the judge and DA in the most favorable light. Often, the only window into your personal life is through your attorney. If your attorney is effective at doing these
If you do have a defense or if the DA’s evidence is not very strong, and if you are not inclined to accept whatever the DA is offering, your case will go to trial. Few cases make it to trial; maybe one in ten. At trial, the DA presents whatever admissible evidence they have against you to twelve ordinary citizens. The DA must prove every element of every charge against you by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the highest evidentiary
burden in law. Your attorney must persuasively point out the weaknesses of the DA’s case and skillfully present your defense if you have one.
In order to convict you, all twelve jurors must agree that the DA has proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt. If even one juror finds that the DA hasn’t met this heavy burden, then you can’t be convicted. (Hung jury) If all twelve jurors agree that the DA hasn’t met its burden of proof, then a verdict of NOT GUILTY must be rendered.