Being arrested and charged with a DUI in Chester County is a serious matter. If you're in this predicament, your first response should be to get in contact with an experienced criminal defense attorney. A legal representative will be able to ensure that you're aware of all of your options and that you make decisions that will maximize your chances of a favorable outcome. The earlier you involve an attorney in your case, the better the outcome will likely be.
Any uncertainty you have in this process will lead to additional stress in an already overwhelming situation. Having a clear understanding of the DUI prosecution process will give you leverage.
The DUI Prosecution Process in Chester County
After the Arrest
After an arrest in Chester County, law enforcement protocol demands that DUI suspects are taken to a nearby police station for further testing. In these cases, defendants are asked to take a blood, urine, or breath test to measure their BAC. If it is over the legal limit (.08% for most people), an arresting officer is given wide discretion in making the decision to either order your release from custody or to keep you there on bond. Significant impairment or hostile interactions between you and an officer could increase the likelihood of you staying on bond.
Refusing to take a chemical test in Chester County is a violation of Pennsylvania's implied consent law. In doing so, one could face administrative consequences that are harsher than ones associated with an actual DUI. Defendants who break this law are facing a one-year driver's license suspension. For subsequent offenses. Drivers face an 18-month suspension. These consequences are pretty harsh, so people in this predicament are encouraged to take a BAC test and submit to the implied consent law regardless of the circumstances.
The most critical part of the DUI prosecution process is the preliminary hearing. This hearing exists to ensure that there is sufficient evidence to put you on trial. During this hearing, the prosecution (the Commonwealth) must vaguely establish that a crime was committed and that you have some sort of connection to that crime.
Although a preliminary hearing and a trial have some similarities, they consist of key differences vastly distinguish them. Firstly, the goal in a preliminary hearing does not include assigning guilt to a defendant. It is essentially a way to deter the occurrence of a wrongful arrest, detainment, charge or conviction. Also, the evidentiary standard in these hearing is significantly lower than a trial. The prosecution must substantiate probable cause to succeed in this hearing. Probable cause exists when the evidence provided would lead a reasonable person to believe that the defendant could have possibly committed a crime. Meeting this standard is relatively easy.
If the prosecution's evidence fails to provide sufficient evidence to prove their case, your case will be dismissed. If the Magistrate judge rules that the prosecution has fulfilled the burden of proving their case, your case will advance to the Court of Common Pleas.
An arraignment is also a hearing. It is where the court formally charges you with a crime. At this hearing, the court will detail the crime you are charged with, inform you of your right to legal counsel, ask you to enter a plea, and set the amount for bail. An arraignment is especially important, cause you will have to make the choice to either plead “guilty” or “not guilty.” It's recommended that you have an attorney on your side before making a plea so you can make the best possible decision for your circumstances.
Following an arraignment, a case will advance to the pretrial conference phase of the prosecution process. This conference's primary function is to fill the judge in on the overall status of your case. Your case could be in several stages: It could be going straight to trial, there may be a plea deal being negotiated (and you won't have to go to trial), or a trial may be delayed to garner or discover new evidence. Whatever state your case is in, it will be discussed between your representation, the prosecution, and the judge.
Based on the information learned in this case, a judge may establish a tentative trial date, and set a date to conclude all pre-trial activities.
If a plea deal isn't negotiated in the pre-trial phase, the case will go to trial. DUI trials usually have a jury to hear your case, deliberate, and make a final decision. During a trial, the prosecution is given the burden of proving that a defendant committed a crime “beyond a reasonable doubt” - the highest evidentiary standard. If evidence meets this standard, it means that the prosecution's evidence was so convincing that the jury or judge could come to no other logical explanation than the fact that the defendant committed a crime. Basically, the judge or jury has no doubt of a defendant's guilt.
You may be asked to testify but it isn't a requirement. If the prosecution fails to convincingly prove that you committed the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt, your case will be dismissed. If the case ends in conviction because of a guilty or plea or due to a guilty verdict, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled on the same day as the trial or on a further date.
If you aren't too familiar with the trial process, here's a general order of events:
- Opening statements
- Presentation of prosecution's evidence
- Presentation of defense's evidence
- Closing arguments
Chester County DUI Attorney
If you've been arrested and charged with a DUI in Chester County, you should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney. The sooner that an attorney can get on a case, the sooner they can start building a solid defense. A DUI is a serious charge that requires aggressive and experienced representation. Joseph D. Lento has represented countless clients who've acquired misdemeanor and felony DUI charges and has helped get their sentence reduced, and get their charges dismissed. He can do the same for you. Contact him today online or by phone at (215) 535-5353 for help.