Regardless of the circumstances, a DUI arrest can have a serious impact on your future. This guide will help you understand the criminal justice process and give you a better opportunity to reach a positive outcome.
The initial appearance
In most cases, you will post a bond on your DUI case and never see a judge at initial appearance. However, if you can't post bond for some reason, this first court appearance is called an "initial appearance." The timing of your initial appearance will depend on what time of day you were arrested. Under Florida law, for example, a person arrested and incarcerated for that arrest is required to see a judge within 24 hours of your arrest in order for you to be held legally in jail.
At this appearance, you will stand in front of the judge. The judge will review the affidavit submitted by the law enforcement officer that arrested you for DUI. The judge will determine if there is probable cause to believe that you committed a DUI.
If the judge finds that there is probable cause that you committed a DUI, if you are eligible, the judge will set a bond for you. The judge might also set certain conditions on the bond. In a DUI case, the judge may order you not to drink while your case is pending or that you not go to any bars or places that serve alcohol until your case is over.
Your lawyer can file a motion with another judge requesting to change the conditions of your bond set by the initial appearance judge, but until that motion is granted, you must comply with these conditions or risk a bond revocation and going back to jail. These court appearances are short and very procedural. This is not the time or the place to discuss the facts of your DUI case and this is not your trial. Remember everything that you say is recorded and can and will be used against you later.
Understanding the consequences of a DUI
DUI charges are considered "enhanceable" offenses. This means that the more DUI charges/arrests that you have, the harsher the penalties can be. For those of you that have never had a DUI charge before, you are most likely facing probation, classes, community service, fines and drug testing if you plead guilty to the charge before going to trial. There are certain minimum punishments that the prosecutor will ask for in your sentence and that the Judge must impose under Florida law.
If you plead to a DUI charge, even the best lawyer cannot escape these minimum penalties. However, a good lawyer will try to reduce the impact of your sentence on your life and negotiate your punishment so that you will be successful in completing the Court's order. Because a DUI charge is a criminal charge, you could face jail time. Normally, jail time is reserved for repeat offenders. However, a prosecutor may seek jail time on any DUI case.
It is common for a prosecutor to ask for jail time on a first time DUI if the facts are particularly egregious. Some aggravating factors could include a minor in the car at the time of the DUI arrest, a bad car accident, or a very high breath test level. If this is your second, third, or fourth DUI, you will be facing much more stringent and harsh penalties if you plead guilty to your DUI offense including jail time, ignition interlock device, and very long court ordered driver's license suspensions.
Avoiding a driver's license suspension
When you are arrested for DUI and either take the breath test and blow over the legal limit or refuse to take the breath test your license will be immediately suspended. Now, how long this suspension will last and whether or not you will be able to drive while your license is suspended varies from case to case and person to person.
First things first, you will be issued a DUI citation. You should be handed this citation when you bond out of jail, along with other paperwork. This citation looks like a typical traffic ticket, much like a speeding ticket, but carries with it much greater penalties. If you are not handed a citation, you can normally go to the agency that arrested you and request a copy. You are given a copy of the citation, a copy goes to the criminal courts, and a copy immediately goes to the DHSMV.
The citation is your Temporary Driver's License for 10 calendar days. You will need to have the original citation with you in your car and it will allow you to drive, for Business Purposes Only, for ten days from the date of your arrest. Business Purposes is usually work, school, medical and church. Normally, a law enforcement officer will find that you are involved in "business" if you are engaged in an activity that is needed to maintain your livelihood. But, be warned and be careful, if you get pulled over while driving with this type of temporary permit, your license may be permanently suspended.
In many states, your arraignment will be your first "real court date." Meaning, it will be the first court date that will move your case towards being resolved. Under Florida law, an arraignment is required, unless waived by your lawyer. The State of Florida, through the court, is required to put you on adequate notice of what charges the State of Florida plans to bring against you. Your arraignment is the court date used to fulfill this requirement. In your case the government will most likely announce that you are being charged with DUI.
Pre-trial and case management
Pre-Trial Conference/ Docket Sounding/ Case Management normally encompass second and sometimes third "real court dates". The easiest way to describe what will happen at this court date is to refer to it as a scheduling date for the path of your DUI case. The county in which your charges are pending will determine what this court date is called. Every county uses a different term to refer to this scheduling court date. Some counties call it, "Pre-Trial Conference," while other counties call your second court date a "Docket Sounding."
Regardless of the name, the purpose is the same to set a scheduling path for your court case. Traditionally, this court date is for your lawyer to tell the judge that either: (1) Your DUI case is ready to go to trial, (2) You and the state through the trial prosecutor assigned to your case, have reached a negotiated resolution on your case and you wish to enter a plea to your case, or (3) You and your lawyer need a continuance on your case in order to more adequately prepare your DUI case for trial or do some additional work to get your case ready to enter a plea.
Trial and sentencing
A trial is the final piece of your DUI criminal case. This is the time, if your case does not resolve before, in which the State of Florida will be required to prove that you committed DUI beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. The State of Florida will most likely attempt to prove your guilt by bringing in witnesses with knowledge of your case, possibly presenting physical evidence that they think ties you to the crime, and overall arguing to a jury that they should find you guilty of the crimes that they have alleged. At your sentencing, whether it happens immediately after trial or weeks later, you are able to present testimony on your behalf to the Judge before the Judge pronounces sentence. You and your lawyer, although a very hard conversation, have a talk before trial about your sentencing. This conversation is necessary so that your lawyer is prepared for your sentencing hearing, in the event that it is needed. Commonly friends and family members come to sentencing hearings to speak good about you to the Judge. Also, it is helpful to make the Judge aware of any job that you are holding, school you are attending, kids that you have, or good works that you are doing in the community. If the Judge chooses to immediately proceed to sentencing and not set off the sentencing hearing, and he/she sentences you to a term of incarceration, then most of the time, you will be taken into custody immediately to begin serving your sentence. If there are real, identifiable appellate issues in your case, then your lawyer can ask the Judge to set a supersedes bond in your case. This is a bond that you are released on, after trial, to allow you time to appeal your case before you begin serving your sentence on the case. These types of bonds are very rare, but are available, if there are real appellate issues in your case.
If your lawyer believes that your rights have been violated in anyway, i.e. you were the subject of an unreasonable search or seizure, you were never read your Miranda rights, or incorrect information was filled out on the police report, your lawyer will routinely file a motion asking the court to throw out evidence against you. If the judge grants a motion, the State of Florida will be precluded from using anything related to motion in court. If this happens, it may leave the State of Florida with very little remaining evidence. The weaker your lawyer can make the case for the prosecution the better your chances of a successful outcome. A lot of times, if a motion is granted the State Attorney is forced to drop the charges against you.
Discovery is a process that your lawyer will engage in with the prosecutor. Basically, it is where the prosecution has to show your lawyer all of their "cards." Meaning they have to hand over all of the evidence in your DUI case. They have to show your lawyer both the evidence that they feel proves that you are guilty of the crime that you are charged with, as well as, any evidence that they might have that may tend to show you are not guilty of the crime with which you are charged. The Discovery process can include conducting depositions of the government's witnesses, viewing evidence collected in your case, or visiting locations that are important to your case.
However, most of the time when you lawyer indicates he received "Discovery," it means that he/ she received a packet of paperwork from the government pertaining to your case. Most of the time this packet of paperwork has in it police reports, witness statements, pictures, etc. all pertaining to your case. This packet is crucial to building your defense, so it is important that you review this packet with your lawyer. You must read every word on every page of this packet. As they say, "the Devil is in the Details" and inconsistencies in the discovery packet can help you win your DUI case.
The no-contest plea
A no contest plea means that you believe that resolving your case by pleading to your charges is in your own best interest. It also shows the court that you believe that you are ready to get your case over. It also shows the court that you are not going to contest the evidence against you any further (i.e. not go any further with pre-trial motions and/ or trial).
Basically, you want the case over and you are going to accept whatever punishment that the court deems fit. Most people that plea no contest do not entirely agree with the State's evidence/ case, but they also do not want to take the risk of going to trial on the case.
Hiring a Lawyer
After your arrest, the first thing you need to do is find yourself a drunk driving lawyer. A good attorney can advise you on possible defense strategies and perhaps negotiate a good deal for you or even get your charges dropped entirely. The lawyer you hire is the person that stands between you and the prosecutor's desire to punish you, and will save you time and stress associated with filing paperwork and making court appearances.
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