What Happens During a DUI Preliminary Hearing?

A drunk driving mistake can potentially result in negative consequences that last well into the future. If you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, the next steps can be overwhelming.

In most cases, the legal process is slow and painful, but in a DUI case, things move very quickly after you are arrested. Within 1-2 days after your arrest, you will appear before the judge to enter a plea. Then, you will be scheduled for a preliminary hearing. You should familiarize yourself with what to expect at the preliminary hearing, because it is a critical piece of the DUI process. Let’s dive in further and find out what exactly happens during a DUI preliminary hearing.

What is a DUI preliminary hearing?

A preliminary must take place in order for a trial to be held. It’s usually scheduled within 30-60 days from the date of your arrest. The preliminary hearing will take place in the same District Court where you were arraigned.

A preliminary hearing is sometimes confused with a trial, and that’s because it is very much like a trial. The judge will hear from witnesses on both sides, evidence is presented, and attorneys cross examine witnesses to evaluate credibility. The key differences are:

  • You appear before a judge without a jury
  • The duration of the hearing is much shorter than the long process of a trial
  • There is no decision of guilt or innocence at this stage

Inside the courtroom only the judge, the prosecution, and the defense will be present at the preliminary hearing. Additionally, the proceedings are open to the public so anyone, including family and friends, are welcome to attend.

During the preliminary hearing, the judge will review the facts and determine whether the case has grounds to go to trial. In making this determination, the judge uses the “probable cause” legal standard to decide whether enough evidence was produced to convince a jury that the defendant committed the crime. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your arrest, this proceeding may last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.

What are the possible outcomes of a DUI preliminary hearing?

At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, there are a few different things that could happen. After reviewing witness testimony and the evidence presented, the judge may determine that there is not enough probable cause to go to trial. In this case, the judge will drop the charges at the preliminary hearing. Alternatively, if the judge thinks the evidence supports the prosecution’s case against you, then the judge will decide to move forward with trial. It is important to remember, that the preliminary hearing is not where the judge decides “guilty” or “not guilty.”

When does a DUI preliminary hearing not happen?

In most DUI cases, there is a preliminary hearing. The typical course of action is:

  • Arraignment
  • Preliminary hearing
  • Trial

There are a few exceptions to this typical course of action, however. When a person is arraigned and pleads guilty, then there is no need for a preliminary hearing. There are some certain circumstances as to why someone would plead guilty, such as overwhelming evidence of intoxication. Also, taking a plea bargain would eliminate the need for a preliminary hearing. In all of these cases, the judge has no need to determine whether your case should go to trial.

How to prepare yourself for a DUI preliminary hearing

Knowing what to do to prepare yourself for a preliminary hearing can be overwhelming. Here are some tips on how to best present yourself for your case.

Dress appropriately

A judge has the ability to make a split decision about your future, so it is important to give them the upmost respect that they deserve. Part of that is being mindful about your appearance when you go to your preliminary hearing. That doesn’t mean that you have to wear a suit, but dress and act professionally. Don’t plan on wearing:

  • Blue jeans
  • T-shirts or wife beaters
  • Shirts with obscene language or pictures
  • Crop tops
  • Skirts that are tight fitting or extremely short
  • Any other clothing that would be deemed inappropriate by today’s standards

Remember that first impressions weigh big with judges.

Understand that the preliminary hearing is not to establish guilt or innocence

As mentioned before, it is important to remember that the preliminary hearing is not the end all, be all. It is not the trial. So even if the judge decides to go through with the trial, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no hope for your case.

If the witness is lying on the stand, be sure to maintain your composure.

Not everyone tells the truth on the stand. It is hard to hear a witness, especially a police officer, twisting certain facts when your future is at stake. But it is extremely important that you do not make faces or interrupt during the testimony. A judge can see your conduct and anything inappropriate could work against you in the end. Remember it is your attorneys job to defend you.

No one is out to get you

Too often, people think that the judge and the DA is out to get them. This is not true. They are just doing their job. The DA’s job is to convince the judge to go to trial and the judge’s job is to make a determination based on the law whether you should go to trial on some or all of the charges presented.

Hire an attorney to fight for your rights

Your best bet to prepare yourself for the preliminary hearing is hiring an experienced attorney. Without a legal background, you would have a difficult time representing yourself at a preliminary hearing. It is the attorney’s job to point out weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, cross-examine witnesses and call evidence into question. An experienced DUI attorney can help you understand your rights in the process and help you obtain the best possible outcome.

The attorneys at DiCindio Law have significant experience trying DUI cases in Pennsylvania. To connect with an experienced DUI attorney, fill out the contact form today.