Being arrested and charged with a DUI is an overwhelming and stressful event. Many of the people in this predicament, especially first-time DUI offenders, don't understand or know how to navigate the Delaware County criminal justice system. Suspects are oftentimes not the sloppy drunks or unhinged addicts that are depicted on television, movies, or the media. They are oftentimes mature, responsible adults who made a serious mistake.
If you've been charged with a DUI in Delaware County, your first and immediate response should be to contact a criminal defense attorney. Even if you feel that you have a good grasp on your case and the state and county's criminal procedure, it is still necessary to get the expert opinion of a seasoned DUI attorney. A legal representative will be able to ensure that you are aware of all your options and that you make good decisions in this process to maximize your chances of success. The earlier you involve an attorney in your case, the better your outcome will likely be.
Any uncertainty you have in this process will also cause additional stress to an already nerve-racking situation. Gaining a coherent understanding of the DUI prosecution process will help you feel better, give you leverage in your case, and help you make informed decisions.
The DUI Prosecution Process in Delaware County
After the Arrest
Following an arrest in Delaware County, it is protocol for a police officer to request that you be taken to a station for further testing. You'll be asked to take a blood or breath test that dictates an estimate of the alcohol in your system, also known as a BAC (blood alcohol content). Then, an officer is given wide discretion to order your release from custody or to be kept there on bond. This decision typically is made based on an officer's interactions with you, and the circumstances of your case. If tests determine that you are significantly impaired, or if there was hostility between you and an officer, the chances of you staying on bond and meeting the commissioner are heightened.
Refusing to take a BAC test in Delaware County is criminal because of the state's implied consent law. If violated, defendants face a one-year suspension of their driver's license. For subsequent offenses, defendants face an 18-month long suspension. With such harsh consequences, people in this situation are encouraged to obey the requirements to submit a BAC test regardless.
The most crucial step in the DUI prosecution process is the preliminary hearing. The focus of this hearing is to ensure that there is sufficient evidence to justify putting a defendant on trial. During this hearing, the prosecution (the Commonwealth) has the opportunity to provide evidence that supports that a crime was committed and that the defendant in question was the one that committed it.
Although a preliminary hearing and a trial are similar concepts, there are key differences between the two phases. In a preliminary hearing, there is no “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict, and there's a significantly lower evidentiary standard, known as probable cause. Probable cause exists when the evidence provided would lead a reasonable person to believe that a defendant committed a crime. Meeting that evidentiary standard is relatively easier than other standards of proof.
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 for further proceedings.
After a preliminary hearing, a formal arraignment at the Court of Common Pleas in the county will be scheduled at a later date. This is also the day when a case will officially be transferred to trial level court, and you will be posed with the option of making a “guilty” or “not guilty” plea.
Following the arraignment, a case will be listed in the Pretrial Conference phase of the process. This conference is intended to inform the judge of what the overall status of a defendant's case is. The case may be going straight to trial, there may be a plea deal in the works, or the case may be delayed to discover the new evidence. Whatever state your case is in, it will be discussed in the pre-trial conference.
If a plea deal is not negotiated in the pre-trial conference phase, the case will be put on a trial list. This means that your case will go to an actual trial, where a judge will hear your case and a jury will deliberate. During a trial, the prosecution has the burden of proving that a defendant committed a crime “beyond a reasonable doubt” - the highest evidentiary standard. You may be asked to testify, but it is not a requirement.
If the case ends in conviction, either because of a guilty plea or a guilty verdict, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled. If a defendant pleads guilty, the sentencing hearing will take place on the day of the plea or the day after. In the case of a guilty verdict, the sentencing hearing will be held on a further date.
If you aren't too familiar with the trial process, here's a basic overview:
- Opening statements
- Presentation of prosecution's evidence
- Presentation of the defense's evidence
- Closing arguments
Delaware County DUI Attorney
If you've been arrested and charged with a DUI in Delaware 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 numerous 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.