What Is The Court Process For A DUI Case?
Once you are charged with a DUI and you receive your charging documents in the mail, the typical process is as follows. In that packet that you receive in the mail, there is typically a fingerprint order as part of that packet. That is where you must go into whichever police station charged you with the offenses and be fingerprinted and photographed. Everyone must be fingerprinted and photographed, and this typically has to be done prior to your preliminary hearing. The judge or the magistrate will require you if you do not have it done to get it done that day and will make it part of your bail. If you deny to be fingerprinted and photographed, then you could go to jail for violating that court order.
The next thing that will happen is your preliminary arraignment, which typically is done at the preliminary hearing, but not always. This can be done earlier, as early as the night on which you are arrested. At the arraignment, this is where the magistrate informs you of the charges that are pending against you and set your bail. As far as bail options, your bail can be set at nothing, which is released on your own recognizance (which is ROR bail), or it can be some monetary value either unsecured, which means you don’t have to pay it unless you violate your bail or some type of secured monetary value that you have to pay to the court which they will hold until your case is finalized and then you will be released out of incarceration back to the public.
You must pay that bail to be released, and if you do have to pay a monetary value, it will be returned to you or whoever posted the bail once your case is completed. The next step is the preliminary hearing. This is the first time other than if you have an arraignment in which you will be in front of the judge. Even at an arraignment, you are not able to challenge any of the offenses against you. The preliminary hearing is the first time that you have the opportunity to challenge the evidence in which the police are claiming against you. The preliminary hearing allows the defendant to force the prosecution to put witnesses on the stand to testify. In addition, the defendant can cross-examine the witnesses and present their own evidence in your defense.
The burden is on the commonwealth to show what is known as a prima facie case. A prima facie case consists of evidence read in the light most favorable to the commonwealth that sufficiently establishes both the commission of a crime and that the defendant or accused is probably the perpetrator of that crime. To say that in non-legal terms, the commonwealth must prove, by presenting evidence that is accepted as true establish, sufficient probable cause such as defendant committed the offense. They just have to show evidence that you likely committed this offense; not that you’re guilty, but that you are linked to these offenses. Ultimately, there are two takeaways necessary for understanding the prima facie burden of proof that the commonwealth must need at the preliminary hearing.
First, the prosecution must establish some evidence that the crime was committed and that the defendant committed it. Second, the evidence presented must be accepted as true by the magistrate judge, which means that credibility of witnesses is not at issue at this stage. In addition, the magistrate is not determining your guilt or innocence at this period. When your preliminary hearing is completed, the magistrate will provide a court date for the court of common pleas; this is also known as an arraignment. However, it is an arraignment at the court of common pleas level. What happens at this level and this particular court date is that the judge now, at the court of common pleas, will explain the charges that the district attorney’s office has officially filed against you.
What will happen prior to this is the district attorney’s office will file what is known as the information. The information contains the charges that they are going to attempt to prove that you’ve committed. At the arraignment, the court will inform the defendant of those charges and will provide a copy of the information to the defendant so that they know exactly what charges they are facing. Most of the time, arraignments are waived because the defendant has private counsel and private counsel has already explained to the defendant the charges that are charged against them, and then the defendant will receive a copy of the charges from the counsel. What makes the arraignment phase important is it starts the clock running for the defense counsel.
The clock starts running on that day for three major items in a criminal case. One is called the Bill of Particulars, which must be filed with the district attorney’s office and then they will respond with their information to that. The other is the request for discovery which also has to be filed with the district attorney’s office and then they’ll provide the discovery. The third major thing to start is that all pretrial motions must be filed in one single motion within 30 days of the arraignment date unless otherwise extended for some reasons. That is a major date. So if you have an issue with how the evidence was obtained or some other issue with the case itself, it must be raised within 30 days of the date of arraignment.
The next court date is if there is a pretrial motion filed, the pretrial motion needs to be heard in court. Pretrial motions can be filed for almost any reason as long as it is relevant to the case. You can’t file a pretrial motion for any reason; there has to be a legitimate question about the case. The court requires that all pretrial motions are filed together in a single motion known as the Omnibus motion. Different examples of the motion that can be included are suppression motions, a Frye motion which is a scientific argument about some part of the evidence, a change of venue, or a motion in limine which can restrict the testimony that’s allowed to be given at trial. You can also do a motion to compel if the district attorney’s office is not providing different discovery, you can compel them to do so.
Additionally, you can file a motion to dismiss the case or different charges; you can ask to quash the information which is the removal of charges from the information that the district attorney’s office would have provided the arraignment. There are many other motions that could be filed if that need to be heard at a hearing that the court will schedule. These are not dismissed at the pretrial motion, would be a pretrial hearing. At the pretrial hearing, this will happen after all the pretrial motions have been heard and decided by the court. This hearing is physically for the defense counsel, the defendant and the district attorney’s office to see if they can work out some type of plea agreement or some type of entry into a program as long as the county offers different programs for the particular case, or it’s used to tell the court that you are going to be going to trial.
There are several different diversionary programs that can be offered at this point. However, not every county has all of these programs. Some counties have very specific programs such as a mental health course and a veteran course, other counties only have DUI court programs and drug court programs but a lot of this is dependent on each individual county and whether or not they have the resources to have such programs. Some other additional programs that almost all counties have is a program known as ARD (Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition). This is the program typically for first offenders where they can enter into this program in lieu of receiving a conviction. Another program that all courts have is a program where you could enter into the probation without verdict for disposition in lieu of trial.
These are where you are going to a program, complete the program, and then the charges will eventually be dismissed, which is the same at what would occur in ARD program; if you complete that program, the charges will be dismissed at the completion of the program unless otherwise agreed upon. If the diversionary program is not an option, then you could possibly enter into a negotiated agreement or plea bargain. These negotiations start on day 1 and basically, your attorney should continue with these negotiations all the way up through until the case is decided by the judge or the jury. You can always enter into a plea agreement unless the court tells you that it’s too late, which is typically when the jury comes back with a verdict.
Over 90% of cases end in some type of plea agreement or a negotiated settlement. So it’s important that the defense counsel is always working on the DA’s office to reach an outcome in which the defendant can agree to for a possible negotiated agreement of plea bargain. But if one can’t be reached, then the next step is to do the trial. There are two different types of trials in Pennsylvania. There is a bench trial, which is a trial by a judge, and there is a jury trial which is a trial by your peers. Any offense with a maximum punishment of 6 months or less is not entitled to a jury trial in the state of Pennsylvania. You are only entitled to a bench trial by a judge. If you are eligible to have a jury trial, you can choose to give that right up for a bench trial by a judge if you believe that that’s in your best interest in your particular case.
For a jury trial, you will have jury selection where you will be with your counsel and you’ll be part of the collection process of the 12 people that will sit on the jury. At jury selection, you will also be given a trial date which will be set at that time. During the trial, you’ll go through an opening statement, and then the commonwealth has to present first and the defense counsel will be allowed to cross-examine the witnesses of the commonwealth. Once the commonwealth rests their case, which means they are no longer willing to present any more evidence, then the defense is allowed to choose to present their evidence or not. As the defendant and as defense counsel, you have no obligation to present any evidence in your defense.
It’s the burden of the commonwealth to prove the charges against you. You have no burden to prove your innocence but the commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt for you to be convicted of the charges that they are charging against you but during your time at trial. Once the defense is done presenting their evidence or chooses not to present any evidence, then the trial moves to closing arguments and at that point, either the judge, if it’s a bench trial, will render a decision or the jury will deliberate and reach a decision of guilty or innocent. If a defendant is found guilty, the next phase is the sentencing phase, which usually happens at a later date.
If you enter a plea agreement or the judge or the jury finds you guilty of certain offenses, typically the sentencing date is scheduled, and you’ll come back to the court and will be sentenced on that sentencing date. The reason why courts do this is because they allow the probation office to conduct what is called a PSI, which stands for Pre-Sentence Investigation where they find out a lot about the individual defendant and the personal situation in light. They use that information to help you find an appropriate sentence. The court can, if it so chooses, sentence same day as a plea whereas a verdict comes back from a jury if the defendant waives their right to a pre-sentence conviction. Once sentencing occurs, post-sentence motions can be filed and if they are filed, it must be filed within 10 days of the date of sentencing to challenge the evidence presented at trial or the sentence itself.
Any challenge that you want to raise, you must raise within 10 days in your post-sentence motion. The court then has 120 days to decide that motion. If they don’t decide within 120 days, they can extend it for an additional 30 days. If they don’t decide it at that point, it is being denied and then you have to file an appeal with the superior court. Appeals must be filed within 30 days of either being sentenced or within 30 days of the decision on the post-sentence motion. The post-sentence motion is an optional motion that can be filed and in some instances, depending on what you’re arguing, must be filed. In most instances, it can go straight to an appeal with the superior court.
If the superior court does not find it in your favor and you would look to go to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, you do not have a constitutional right to be heard at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. What you have to do is file a petition for allowance of appeal which is basically you asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court if they will hear your case. They will then decide whether or not they believe it’s worthy of them hearing your particular issue and your case, and how it affects the broader scope of cases in the state of Pennsylvania.
If they determine that you are not going to be appealed there, your case is done in the court system. If they agree to hear your case, then you get to argue in front of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and then their decision is final. There is no appeal beyond that unless you go to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has a totally separate process for asking them to hear your case.
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