Deemed one of the most populated counties in Pennsylvania, Montgomery County is home to approximately 800,000 residents. It's known for its unique combination of dense towns and broad open land, making it a very popular place for residency. Like most large and diverse counties, Montgomery County has a pretty high crime rate. The rates of DUIs are also high, as there is a heavy police presence in the area and law enforcement and prosecutors can be known for being overzealous.
Being arrested for a DUI is a stressful and overwhelming experience. The majority of people who are charged - especially first-time offenders - don't know what to expect of their impending time in the Montgomery County criminal justice system. DUI suspects are oftentimes not the type of people depicted on television, movies, or the media. They are often responsible, mature individuals who made a big mistake.
If you've been charged with a DUI in Montgomery County, you're first and immediate response should be to contact a criminal defense attorney. Even if you feel as if you understand your case and criminal procedure, it would be wise to get the expert opinion of an experienced DUI attorney to ensure you are aware of all your options, and that you make good decisions in this process. Remember, the earlier you involve counsel in your case, the better your outcome will likely be.
Also, any uncertainty you're feeling in this process can cause additional stress. Gaining an understanding of the process will help you feel better, and will help you make informed decisions.
The DUI Prosecution Process in Montgomery County
After an Arrest
After an arrest in Montgomery County, an officer will request that the suspect is taken to the police station to undergo chemical testing. Then, depending on an officer's discretion, a suspect can be immediately be released from the police station or be kept there on bond. People who are significantly impaired or experienced hostility with an officer will likely be held to see a commissioner.
Refusing to take a BAC test in Montgomery County is a criminal act due to the state's implied consent law. It carries penalties of a year-long suspension of driving privileges. For a second refusal, suspects face a suspension of 18 months. People are generally encouraged to submit to the BAC test regardless of the circumstances because of the harsh penalties.
The most critical step of the DUI prosecution process is the preliminary hearing. It is essentially an opportunity for the prosecution (the Commonwealth) to prove that a crime was committed and that you were likely the one that committed it - also known as a “prima facie” case. Although a preliminary hearing resembles a trial in some aspects, there are significant differences between the two phases. In a preliminary hearing, there is no “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict and there's a lower evidentiary standard. If the prosecution fails to provide sufficient evidence to prove their case, a defendant's case will be dismissed. If the Magistrate judge concludes that the prosecution has substantial evidence to put you on trial, a defendant's case will progress to the Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings.
There is an option to waive this hearing, but whether it would be in your best interest to do so depends on the circumstances of your case. Only a legal representative who has full knowledge of the law, your case, the DUI trial process, and the potential benefits of a waiver can determine if this is the best decision for you.
After a preliminary hearing, a formal arraignment at the Court of Common Pleas in Norristown will be scheduled. This is also an important part of the process, as a case will officially be transferred to trial level court, and a defendant will be asked to make a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty.”
After an arraignment, a case will be listed in the Pretrial Conference phase of the process. This conference is intended to advise the judge of what the overall status of a defendant's case is. There may be a plea deal in the works, the case may be going straight to trial, or the case may be delayed to discover new evidence. Whatever the situation may be, it will be discussed in the pre-trial conference.
If a plea deal is not reached at the pre-trial conference, the case will be put on a what's known as a trial list. When this occurs, defendants should expect their case to proceed to a full trial with a jury and judge to hear their case. During a trial, the prosecution has the burden of proving that a defendant committed a crime “beyond a reasonable doubt” - the highest evidentiary standard. Basically, if based on the evidence, there is no other logical explanation derived from the facts except that the defendant committed a crime, the prosecution has met the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof.
A defendant is not required to testify or present any evidence, but they can if an attorney believes that it would be in their best interest. If the case ends in a conviction, either due to a guilty plea or a guilty verdict, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled. If a defendant pleads guilty, the sentencing hearing will either take place on the day of the plea or the day after. If there is a guilty verdict, the sentencing hearing will be held at a later date.
Montgomery County DUI Attorney
If you've been arrested and charged with a DUI in Montgomery 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.