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Road map - your DUI in criminal court

In general terms, your criminal case will proceed as follows:

1.       Arraignment:

a.       Your first appearance in court will be for what is called the arraignment.  You will receive notice in the mail to appear in court approximately  a week later.  Thus, it is important that you gave the officer a valid and current address.  Equally important, you need to check your mail daily.  This notice will usually arrive within 6 weeks of your arrest.

b.      At arraignment you will be formally charged with the crime of DUI (and any related crimes, such as hit and run, reckless driving, obstructing, etc.).

c.       After confirming your correct name and date of birth, we will be given a copy of the criminal complaint (the written notice of your charge or charges).  Typically, we will waive a formal reading of the complaint, acknowledge receiving it, and ask the court to enter a plea of “not guilty.”  This preserved all your legal rights for later use.

d.      Following this entry of the plea, the court will set conditions for your continued release from custody.  The conditions typically include:  no criminal law violations; no driving without a valid license and insurance;  no driving with a BAC level of 0.08 or higher or a THC level of 5 or higher within 2 hours of driving;  and no refusals of a lawfully requested breath test.  However, if you have any prior DUI convictions, the court may impose one or more of the following added conditions for your continued release from custody:  post bail in a set amount, install an ignition interlock device in your car, be fitted for a scram bracelet (reports any consumption of alcohol), or other condition the court deems necessary.  (For a violation of any condition imposed, the judge may take you into custody while your case is pending.)

e.      At the end of the arraignment, we will be given the date of our next court hearing – the pretrial hearing.  This is approximately 30 days after arraignment.

f.        The date of arraignment will also start the clock ticking on your right to a speedy trial.  In Washington you are entitled to have your case brought to trial within 60 days of your arraignment if you are being held in custody, or 90 days if you are not being held in custody.  This right belongs to you and used to have real meaning.  However, in recent years changes to the law and the courts' interpretation of those laws have largely eviscerated this “right”.  Nevertheless, anytime we request any continuance of the case, we will be required to “waive” this right to a speedy trial for an additional period of time.

2.       Pretrial Hearing:

a.       This is not the trial.  It is a preliminary hearing to inform the court of where the case is heading – to trial, motions, a plea to DUI, a plea to a reduced charge, or entry of a deferred prosecution.

b.      Rarely are cases ready for making this important decision at the first pretrial hearing.  Thus, it is common practice to ask the court to continue the case to a 2nd pretrial hearing to allow more time for further negotiations, case investigation, etc.

c.       If continued, the 2nd pretrial hearing will be set out approximately 30 days.

3.       Motions Hearing:

a.       This is not the trial.  This is an opportunity for the judge to rule on legal issues (motions) brought by us.  Typically, motions may challenge the legality of the stop, the arrest, and admissibility of statements, field tests, and breath or blood tests.

b.      Prior to the motions hearing date, both sides will have typically filed legal memorandum on some of the pending motions.

c.       On the day of motions, the officer will typically testify for the prosecution to establish a factual basis for the actions taken by the officer.  I will then have a full opportunity to cross examine the officer on specific details of the arrest and processing.

d.      You, as the Defendant have the opportunity to, but need not, testify.  That is a decision we make together based on the facts, circumstances, and posture of the case.

e.      Following testimony, counsel for both sides will argue why the law supports their side of the issues.  Usually, the court will then issue oral rulings on each motion brought before it.

4.       Readiness Hearing or Jury Call:

a.       At this hearing, both the prosecution and the defense will announce whether they are ready for trial.  If ready, the court will assign your case to a specific date when trial will be held (typically to a day in the following week).

5.       Trial:

a.       Trial may be held before a jury of 6 or before the judge only (a “Bench Trial”).  In DUI cases, however, it is not uncommon for the prosecution to file a “demand for jury trail”, requiring the case to be tried by a jury.

b.      To be convicted, the jury must be unanimous.  To be found not guilty, the jury must be unanimous.  If no unanimous decision can be reached by the jurors, the result is a “hung jury” and a mistrial is filed.  In such a case, the prosecution has 30 days to re-file the case and start over.

c.       DUI jury trials usually take a minimum of 2 days to complete.  This is especially true if the breath or blood test result is to be admitted.  It is not uncommon for such trials to last 3 full days, even four.

d.      If found guilty, the next step is sentencing.

6.       Sentencing Hearings:

a.       If you plead guilty or are found guilty at trial, the next step is for the judge to impose sentencing.  This may occur immediately after you plead or after the verdict of guilty comes in.  Or the sentencing may have to be scheduled for a different date.

b.      For DUI convictions, the Court has to impose mandatory minimum conditions of jail, fine, and probation conditions.  Further, you will usually be placed on either active or inactive probation to the court for five years.  For charges reduced from DUI, the probation time is a maximum of two years.

c.       If you violate any of the conditions imposed at sentencing, you will be called back into court for a review hearing.

7.       Review Hearing:

a.       At this hearing, if the court finds that you are not in compliance with the conditions imposed at the sentencing hearing, the judge may impose jail time, added fine, work crew, or community service hours as a sanction.

b.      However, if you were sentenced following a DUI conviction and did any one of the following after that date: drove without a valid license and insurance;  drove within 2 hours of a BAC level of .08 or higher or a THC level of 5 nanograms or higher;  or refused a breath test, the judge MUST impose a minimum of 30 days confinement and DOL will suspend your license for 30 days for each such violation.

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