I received my first DWI last Thursday in Washington Couny; it will be a 4th degree DWI. When can I expect to go to court? Do I only have to go once? If it's scheduled for a date for which I'm scheduled to be out of town for work, is it possible to get the date moved?
Thank you for the e-mail.
The answer as to when you may have a court appearance depends on many things including the type of test that was taken. If the test was a blood or urine test, the charges may be delayed months while analysis occurs.
If you had a Blood Alcohol Content under .20, and you have no prior DWI within the last 10 years, you were charged with a fourth degree offense. This is still serious and carries with it maximum criminal penalties of up to 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine. If convicted any subsequent DWI offense would be much more serious and with four offenses in ten years, you can be charged with a felony. As a result, as strong defense on the first alleged incident can be critical to your future. Different Judges give different sentences. Accordingly, understanding your Judge and knowing how to change Judge's can be an important part of the process.
Even if your criminal case has not been scheduled for hearing, you must act swiftly. There is also a civil case that results in the revocation of your driver's license. On a first offense over your lifetime, you may be revoked for 30 to 90 days. This is a separate case even though the challenges are largely the same. In order to challenge your license revocation, you must seek a judicial review by filing a petition within 30 days of the offense. Do not forget this critical time period. All too often people with strong defenses come to me too late to challenge the license revocation. The end result goes well beyond simply having your license revoked. A failure to challenge results in an Implied Consent violation on your record which can also affect employment and may be used to enhance any subsequent DWI offense.
There are also additional consequences to a conviction including skyrocketing insurance rates, plate impoundments and sometimes vehicle forfeitures.
There are many challenges to a DWI. Officers must follow very specific steps as part of the arrest. If any one step is missing, the case may be dismissed.
Other points of a defense anaylsis include:
· Reasonable Suspicion. The officer must have reasonable suspicion to believe a specific crime has been committed in order to stop a person. If that reasonable suspicion is lacking the stop and the ticket may be invalid;
· Probable Cause to arrest and charge. The officer must make sufficient observations to form a basis for probable cause to believe that you were operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Oftentimes, officers perform field sobriety tests incorrectly making the arrest invalid;
· Procedures at the Station. The officer must follow very specific procedures at the station including reading and recording an Implied Consent Advisory that informs you that you have a right to a lawyer. If any of the steps are omitted, the charges may be dismissed;
· Test Procedures. Testing methods to determine blood alcohol concentrations are imperfect at best. Like any scientific method, any test result has a margin of error. If the machinery is not properly maintained and even if it is properly maintained, the test results may vary from true Blood Alcohol Concentration. A sufficient variation may result in a reduce charge or no charge.
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You say "it will be a 4th Degree DWI" Did they take a sample of your blood breath or urine? If blood or urine, are the results back yet?
At your first appearance you will get a chance to talk to the prosecutor who will make an offer of settlement. If you accept the offer it will all be taken care of that day. If you do not take the deal they will set it for a pretrial and then trial. So you may have to go more than once. But the prosecutor usually only knows your name and the test result at the hearing and has not even reviewed your case. Nor will they review it at that time. It will be a "take the offer or don't" scenario.
Your first appearance may usually be rescheduled once. If you have an attorney, you need not attend the first hearing.
Your best bet is to consult with any attorney and explore all of your options before accepting an offer of settlement from a prosecutor.
If you were issued a ticket, then it should have the date and time on it. If by some chance you are being charged by complaint (rare in a misdemeanor case) then the complaint should give you a date and time to appear. At the hearing, before your case is called, you, and everyone in the courtroom, will be informed of your constitutional rights.
I'd recommend you not show up alone for this hearing - and if you get a lawyer he or she can "appear" in your behalf for this hearing so you don't have to miss work - but if you do show up by yourself at the very least ask to speak to the prosecutor to see what deal he/she is offering. You will only need to appear once if you are pleading guilty and yes and can ask and obtain a continuance if you're scheduled to out of town for work. Be sure to ask for it in plenty of time before the hearing.
However, you should not plead guilty until you, or your attorney, have had an opportunity to review all the evidence in your case. Unfortunately, having all the evidence by the time of the first hearing is not possible sometimes, and by pleading guilty you would have waived all challenges to the stop, the probable cause determination and so on.
If the officer did not give you a citation with a court date listed, you should be receiving one in the mail in the next 2-4 weeks. Washington County sets criminal cases for multiple appearances, depending on what the individual defendant wants to do. If you want to simply plead guilty (which I strongly disagree with until you speak with some attorneys about your situation), you can do so at the first court date. If you're worried about scheduling issues, an attorney can work with the court to move a court date or even bypass your first court date altogether in favor of setting up a more productive pretrial hearing. You should weigh all possible options before you decide how to handle this matter and do NOT assume that there is no way to keep this off your record. Many attorneys who specialize in DWI defense, including me, will gladly give you a free consultation about the whole process and your options. Use us as a resource.
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