The criminal court process in Pennsylvania can be very confusing for most people who are charged with DUIs. In many cases, people who are charged with DUIs have never been involved in criminal cases and have no knowledge of how the system works. When you retain an experienced DUI lawyer in Chester County at DiCindio Law, your lawyer can help by explaining all of the aspects of your case and what you might expect to happen. Here is the process that DUI cases generally go through in the criminal justice system.
A DUI case begins with an officer pulling you over after suspecting you of being under the influence of alcohol or observing you committing a traffic offense. For example, an officer might pull you over if he or she sees you weaving between lanes. After stopping you, the officer will investigate to gather enough evidence to arrest you. During your stop, you should politely refuse to answer any questions without talking to an attorney. You are required to give the officer your name, driver’s license, insurance card, and registration. However, you do not have to answer questions the officer might ask you.
If the officer gathers enough evidence of intoxication, he or she will place you under arrest. If you are arrested, do not attempt to resist. Doing so will result in additional charges. Refrain from talking to the officer in the police car while you are being transported to the police station. At the station, you will be asked to complete a chemical test. Refusing a chemical test can lead to an automatic suspension of your driver’s license and the most severe penalties available for misdemeanor DUIs if you are convicted.
When you arrive at the station, you will go through booking. This process records your arrest. You will be fingerprinted, searched, photographed, and asked questions. You can tell the officer you do not want to answer any questions until you talk to an attorney.
Arraignment or Preliminary Hearing
Your first appearance in court after being arrested for a DUI will either be at an arraignment or preliminary hearing. When you are arraigned, you will be read the charges against you and asked to enter a plea. The court must conduct an arraignment if you are still in custody within 48 to 72 hours of your arrest. If you were released from custody or posted bail, you should have received paperwork listing the charges against you. In some cases, the charges will be mailed to the defendants. This paperwork will also contain the date and location of the preliminary hearing.
The preliminary hearing will be held in the district court where you were pulled over and arrested. Normally, this hearing will be scheduled within one to two months after your arrest. The preliminary hearing will be heard by a magistrate judge.
It is important for you to have an attorney to represent you at your preliminary hearing. It is possible that your lawyer might be able to get some of your charges dismissed at this hearing. If the judge finds that there is sufficient probable cause for your charges, your case will be sent to the County Court of Common Pleas for an arraignment. This appearance will normally occur within two months of your preliminary hearing.
If you are a first-time offender and eligible for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, you might make an application to ARD before or after your arraignment. You will be able to get copies of the police reports and other relevant information at your arraignment. Your attorney might also file motions at the arraignment or later during a pretrial conference.
Your lawyer might negotiate with the prosecutor to try to secure a favorable plea offer. Plea bargains are generally favorable for both defendants and prosecutors. Defendants receive reduced punishments or charges in exchange for entering guilty pleas, which also helps to keep the prosecutor from having to take the case to trial. Your attorney will talk to you about your options and explain whether or not it is in your interests to try to plea bargain your case.
The ARD program offers a way for people to resolve their DUIs without going to trial. If you are accepted to the ARD program and successfully complete it, your DUI case will be dismissed. You will then be eligible to petition the court to have it expunged from your record. To qualify for ARD, you must be a first-time offender who did not cause death or serious injury. Your attorney can talk to you about the ARD program and your potential eligibility for it.
If you do not resolve your DUI case through a plea bargain, guilty plea, or the ARD program, your case will go to trial. At trial, your defense lawyer and the prosecutor will go through the jury selection process. Then, both attorneys will make opening statements. Following the opening statements, the prosecutor will call witnesses and present evidence. Your attorney will cross-examine any witnesses who are called to testify against you by the prosecutor and will challenge the evidence. Once the prosecutor rests, your defense attorney can present your case. This might involve calling witnesses and presenting evidence. Once both sides have rested, the attorneys will give their closing statements. The case will then be sent to the jury for deliberations. If they unanimously agree on a verdict, the jury will return to the courtroom for the verdict to be read. If you are found guilty, the judge will determine your sentence.
Get Help From a Criminal Defense Lawyer
While the criminal court process might seem overwhelming, an experienced DUI defense lawyer can help you navigate it. Having good legal representation is important when you are facing a DUI charge. With an attorney’s help, you might be able to secure a better outcome for your case. Call DiCindio Law today at 610.430.3535 to request a consultation.