Being precisely informed of what charges the State is bringing against you is your Constitutional right.
In a criminal prosecution, you start with a presumption in your favor that you are innocent until and unless proven guilty. You also have the right to be accurately and completely informed precisely what the charges are that the State is bringing against you. Such information is vital to protect your constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial. For example, if you cannot read or only speak a different language, you must usually still receive a written copy of the official charges against you. However, at your first appearance before the court to announce whether you plead guilty or not guilty (called your "arraignment"), the charges will be read to you in a manner and language that you can comprehend.
What are the "charging documents" used in a criminal prosecution?
The paperwork starting a DUI-DWI case can be as simple as the written citation or traffic ticket that the law enforcement officer gave you at the time of your arrest. Some jurisdictions authorize the use of such documents (and only these documents) to proceed all the way to your trial. Other jurisdictions will permit such "charging documents" to be used, or permit a prosecutor to draw up a more precise accusatory document, or even accuse you of additional criminal charges, by way of a typewritten accusation, information or complaint that more clearly states how and when the offenses occurred. In such a case, the ticket or citation is "superceded" or replaced by the new "formal" document.
Although paper ticket or citation at the time of arrest list the charges against you, the State can add more charges later.
The State might use other types of written notification to officially notify you of all of the charges against you. While you may have received a copy of the paper citation or ticket at the time of your arrest delineating the specific charges against you, the State has the option of bringing additional (or different) charges against you if their investigation of the facts of the case reveal that amended or alternative counts should be pursued against you.
New charges; "Statute of limitations" period
Any new charges that were not originally made against you must be filed by the prosecutor within the "statute of limitations" period. Many states have laws that mandate that the prosecutor assert all available charges against you when the case is "accused." This prevents a prosecutor who gets miffed after losing at a trial of one or more DUI "counts" from drawing up a new charge or charges against you (e.g., reckless driving) during the applicable statute of limitations period.
Time limit for DUI-DWI is usually two years; Most felonies are longer; For murder there is not time limit to file charges
For misdemeanor DUI-DWI cases, the most common time limit for filing charges against you after the commission of the offense is two years. Felonies usually have longer statutes of limitations, going all the way to "no time limit" for murder cases.
Many other charges can be added
Hence, you may arrive at your arraignment and learn that not only have you been charged with DUI-DWI (which you knew), but several alternative counts of DUI-DWI, and possibly other traffic or criminal violations as well. For example, if the search of your vehicle uncovered marijuana, you may face charges (beyond possession of controlled substances - drugs) for DUI-DWI (alcohol), plus a separate charge of DUI-DWI (contraband drugs), plus DUI-DWI (alcohol and drugs, in combination).
Charging documents can be called an "accusation," "indictment," "complaint" or an "information."
The name of this charging document can vary depending upon local practice rules and custom. In some states this document is called an accusation, an indictment, a complaint or an "information." However, the term "indictment" usually refers to a felony prosecution, not a misdemeanor prosecution.
Deficiencies in the charging document may act as a bar to prosecution
Because this charging document must inform you adequately of the charges against you, deficiencies in the form of the document or in the contents (substance) can be used by your attorney as means to either cause the documents to be redrawn or possibly (in certain circumstances) to completely bar (prevent) prosecution of the person charged in the event that "jeopardy" has attached and the State did not correct the flawed charges before jeopardy "attached." A demurrer (or motion to quash) is an attack by the defendant on the form or the content of the accusatory document.
What is a "special demurrer"?
A special demurrer (or special motion to quash) is an attack on the FORM of the document. One such attack might be that the crime with which you are charged cannot be specified on this kind of document. Another could be that it lacked a key signature by the prosecutor or the grand jury foreperson.
What is a "general demurrer"?
A general demurrer (or general motion to quash) is a challenge to the SUBSTANCE or content of what is written in the document. In other words, the accusatory document must be drawn correctly, in unambiguous language. It must contain the correct information and the correct name of the defendant, otherwise the attorney representing the person accused of the crime can ask the judge to grant a complete "discharge and acquittal" of criminal charges against him or her if the prosecutor goes forward with trial and jeopardy "attaches" by virtue of you being put on trial for which your liberty and other eights are at stake.
Challenging the suffciency of the "charging documents" in your case can be VERY time sensitive
The timing for asserting and form of filing this kind of legal challenge is very important, and requires an extensive knowledge of state law and criminal trial practice to succeed. This is a prime reason why you need a DUI-DWI specialist who knows when, how and by what written filing of documents to best use this little-known legal challenge.
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