The fourth-largest county in the state of Pennsylvania, by population, Bucks County was the home to 625,249 people during the 2010 census. While the county seat is Doylestown, many of the residents who call Bucks County home live in the northeastern suburbs of Philadelphia, like Levittown or Croydon, which provide easy access to both Philadelphia and Trenton.
Because Bucks County is largely suburban, the vast majority of the people who live there get around in their cars, rather than on foot, bike, or public transit. This makes driving under the influence (DUI) a relatively common occurrence in Bucks County, largely because the only viable way to get home after a party or from a bar is in a car. Police know this, and make significant efforts to crack down on DUIs in Bucks County by running “saturation patrols” on the major thoroughfares in the county, including Interstates 95, 276 and 476, as well as on Routes 611, 309, and 1. These patrols aim to detect drunk drivers almost exclusively, and officers on these patrols are known to go to great lengths to get drivers to take breath tests on the road.
Being pulled over and investigated for DUI by a Pennsylvania police officer is stressful, even if you are completely sober. If the investigation suggests that you are under the influence, it can turn into an arrest and make everything worse. Should this ever happen to you, hiring a criminal defense or DUI-defense attorney can be the best way to ensure that your rights and interests are protected.
Additionally, getting a lawyer involved in your case as early as possible is crucially important, because the process moves quickly, and early mistakes can have drastic implications as you move forward.
The DUI Prosecution Process in Bucks County
The first step in a DUI case is the arrest. These frequently occur on the side of the road after a traffic stop. Police officers who have a suspicion that someone is driving while drunk – whether from poor driving like swerving, or after a pretextual stop for something like a broken taillight – will ask him or her to take field sobriety tests or a breath test. Refusing to take a breath test comes with a year-long license suspension, so nearly everyone acquiesces to it.
The results of the tests can lead an officer to make an arrest and bring a suspect into the police station for further testing. However, even if the roadside tests do not indicate that you are under the influence, the officer can still decide to make an arrest: Pennsylvania law allows them wide discretion in these situations.
After the arrest, you will typically be released on bond or on personal recognizance – a formal and written promise to appear in court, later.
The Preliminary Hearing
Perhaps the most crucial court appearance that you will go through during the early stages of the DUI process is the preliminary hearing. This is where the Bucks County prosecutor, who represents the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, will try to convince a Magistrate judge that there is enough evidence to show that you committed a DUI crime to put you on trial.
While this makes a preliminary hearing sound a lot like a trial, there are important differences. Two of the most important differences are that an adverse outcome for you is not the end of the case, and there is a lower evidentiary standard, making it a lot less formal than a full-blown trial.
Preliminary hearings are also optional – you have the right to one, but you can waive it. Whether this is wise is a complicated question and revolves around the specific aspects of your case, making a skilled DUI-defense attorney very important to have at this stage in the process.
After the preliminary hearing, if the Bucks County prosecutor has convinced the Magistrate judge that there is sufficient evidence against you to warrant a trial, you will be arraigned in the Court of Common Pleas in Doylestown. At the arraignment, you will have the opportunity to make your official plea in the case – whether you are “guilty” or “not guilty.”
Which plea you make will have vast repercussions on the rest of the process, so having a DUI-defense lawyer to help you will make a huge difference.
In between the arraignment and the trial, there will be a series of hearings and conferences between you, your attorney, the prosecutor, and sometimes the judge in the case. This is where the admissibility of evidence can be challenged and where plea bargains are made, heightening the importance of having a DUI-defense lawyer at your side.
Finally, there is the trial, assuming there was no plea bargain struck during the pre-trial hearings. This is where the prosecution will be tasked with proving to the judge and jury, and beyond a reasonable doubt, that you broke the law and committed the crime of driving under the influence.
Once the prosecution is finished with their case, the defense presents its own and tries to poke holes in the prosecution's tale of what happened. If successful, the jury will acquit you of the charges you are facing. If unsuccessful, the jury will issue a guilty verdict and the sentencing stage will begin, where your attorney urges the court to issue a lenient sentence and provides all of the compelling reasons for doing so.
Bucks County DUI Attorney
If you have been arrested and charged with DUI in Bucks County, you need legal help. Charges like these come with serious consequences, including fines, license suspensions, and even jail time. Convictions leave a lasting blemish on your criminal background that can make life difficult for you, in the future.
Joseph D. Lento is a DUI-defense attorney who helps clients in Bucks County beat drunk driving charges in court. Contact him online or call his law firm at (215) 535-5353 for the legal help you need to protect your future and your right to drive in Pennsylvania.