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When a person receives a drunk driving charge, it’s often their first criminal offense of any kind. It’s normal to worry and wonder about what’s going to happen in the coming legal proceedings. Most people who aren’t familiar with the criminal justice system don’t know what to expect.
There are a number of different stages of a court case. In fact, the process starts when a state’s attorney decides to file charges. Even if you’re arrested for drunk driving, there’s a chance that the prosecutor might decline to pursue the case. It’s important to retain a Los Angles DUI attorney even before the prosecutor makes a decision about the case. Sometimes, your attorney can present evidence or make the case to the prosecutor, and the end result is that you never even have to face criminal charges.
If the prosecutor decides to file charges, the first step in the proceedings is an arraignment date. When you’re arrested, you might wait in jail for your arraignment, or law enforcement might give you a date to appear in court in the future. The arraignment is the first time that you appear in front of a judge or a magistrate.
At the arraignment, your attorney receives a copy of the criminal complaint. You usually also get copies of any police reports that exist in the case. The judge tells you what charges you’re facing. The judge might impose bond conditions for you to comply with while you’re released from jail and waiting for your next court dates. This can include refraining from the use of alcohol and even taking tests to monitor your alcohol use.
There might be a situation where your attorney can negotiate a favorable plea deal for you even before your arraignment. However, in most cases, you enter a plea of not guilty. The court then sets the case for a pretrial hearing. You might have one pretrial hearing or you might have multiple hearings.
During this time, your attorney goes to work preparing your defense. They review police reports. They can make demands on the state prosecutor to produce video or any other evidence that might exist in the case. There might be dispatch recordings or evidence logs that can be extremely helpful to your defense. Your attorney can talk to witnesses and work with you on whether to retain an expert witness to testify in your case.
Pretrial hearings are also the time for preliminary motions. Your experienced DUI attorney conducts an investigation of the traffic stop in your case. If law enforcement didn’t have probable cause to stop your vehicle, your attorney can use California Penal Code Section 1538.5 PC to ask the court to prevent the state from presenting any evidence that resulted from the stop. In almost every drunk driving case, if you win this hearing you also win the entire case.
A pretrial hearing is also the time for you to talk about the case with the state’s attorney. You can talk about whether you can reach a plea agreement that resolves the case. This is voluntary. You have a right to your day in court and a jury of your peers.
If you go to court, you can be found guilty or not guilty. In some cases, the jury decides that they can’t make a decision. In that situation, the prosecutor can retry the case.
If you’re convicted of drunk driving, you have a sentencing date. The court can impose jail time, fines, community service and probation with conditions. It’s important to work with an experienced attorney to navigate California’s complex court system.