What to Expect From a DUI Case

Being arrested for Driving Under the Influence, simply put, is stressful. For many it is the first and only time they have ever been arrested and can be an intimidating introduction to the criminal justice system. It can cause a wide range of problems in a person’s life and is far from an enjoyable experience. This article will aim to give you an idea of what to expect from your DUI case and how DUIs can be defended against.

Driving Under the Influence Prosecution

A DUI charge functions the same way as any other criminal charge. There are constitutional protections, procedural requirements, and a relatively straightforward series of events that will happen in virtually every case. The specifics of these events can be slightly different from county to county, but here are some of the things you can expect.

  • Court date terms
    1. First Appearance/Advisory
    2. Arraignment
    3. Pretrial Conference/Case Management Conference/Disposition
    4. Motion Hearing/Evidentiary Hearing
    5. Trial
  • First Appearance/Advisory
    • If you’re reading this because you have a current Driving Under the Influence charge, then you have either already gone through this step or avoided it by bonding out. In Florida, anyone arrested has a right to be brought before a judge within 24 hours of their arrest to accomplish a few things: 1) Advise the person of what they are accused of; 2) Determine whether there is probable cause to detain the person; 3) Decide what an appropriate bond amount is; 4) Decide what, if any, conditions should be placed on the person while their case is pending. If you bond out before First Appearance/Advisory then you are not required to attend. If you don’t bond out, you will be brought before the judge to accomplish what is listed above.
  • Arraignment
    • In any criminal case the person accused is entitled to an arraignment. Simply put, an arraignment is the formal reading of the charges to the person accused and that person’s opportunity to enter their plea, whether it be guilty, not guilty, or no contest. In virtually every single case a person will enter a plea of not guilty at arraignment. This is because it now allows the person to defend against the case and a person can always change their plea down the line to end the case. If you retain an attorney for your DUI charge, either privately or have one appointed by the public defender’s office, it is very common that the attorney will enter a Notice of Appearance and a written plea of not guilty on your behalf. This means neither you nor your attorney would be required to attend arraignment and the court will automatically set the next court date.
  • Pretrial Conference/Case Management Conference/Disposition
    • This type of hearing can go by several different names depending on which county you are in. Regardless of the name used the hearing is effectively the same. It is a court date in front of the judge which includes the prosecution and the defense. Both sides inform the judge of the progress of the case and if they need more time to work on the case or if the case needs to be set for a particular hearing. You are required to attend these court dates unless a valid waiver of presence is filed.
  • Motion Hearing/Evidentiary Hearing
    • In some DUI cases there will be motions filed that require a hearing with the judge in order for the judge to make a ruling. Examples of these can be a Motion to Modify Terms of Pretrial Release, a Motion to Compel Discovery, or a Motion to Suppress Evidence. These hearings are intended to allow both the defense and the prosecution to present any evidence deemed relevant to the motion and make arguments in support of their position. Once all the relevant evidence has been submitted and arguments have been made the judge will either make a ruling right away or take the motion under advisement and make a ruling at a later date. You may or may not be required to attend these hearings depending on the judge and the subject matter.
  • Trial
    • If you are charged with Driving Under the Influence in Florida, you have the right to have a trial by jury if you want one. The specific schedule for how a trial is completed can differ from county to county, but the overall process is the same, and is as follows: 1) Jury Selection, 2) Opening Statements, 3) Prosecution Case-in-Chief, 4) Defense Case-in-Chief (if any), 5) Prosecution Rebuttal Case (if any), 6) Closing Arguments, 7) Jury Instructions, 8) Jury Deliberation and Verdict. Some counties will have jury selection early in the week and start Opening Statements a different day of that same week. Some counties do what can be referred to as “pick-and-go” which means as soon as the jury is selected the case proceeds to opening statements. Most DUI trials can be finished in a day, but it will all depend on the number of witnesses in the case and how long each witness takes to testify.

How to Defend a Driving Under the Influence Charge

There are a variety of strategies for defending against DUIs. As with most things, the best strategy is determined on a case-by-case basis and very experienced attorneys may disagree on the best way to defend any particular case. The purpose of this section is to give a non-attorney insight into how an attorney can help defend you against a Driving Under the Influence charge.

  • Plea Negotiations
    • One of the primary jobs of a criminal defense attorney is to communicate with the State Attorney’s Office regarding what the appropriate sentence and/or charges in a case should be. Plea Negotiations involve the prosecution and defense coming to an agreement as to what would be an appropriate sentence if the person accused were to plead guilty or no contest to the charge. In the context of a DUI there are certain mandatory conditions of any sentence that cannot be negotiated away and some that can. Your attorney would negotiate with the prosecutor to get the best deal possible that is still legal under the DUI laws. However, just because someone has been arrested and accused of a DUI does not mean that the State Attorney’s Office has to prosecute the case as a DUI. In some cases, the Assistant State Attorney assigned to the case may be willing to amend the DUI (sometimes called reduce the DUI) to something less serious, such as the criminal traffic charge of Reckless Driving, or the traffic infraction of Careless Driving, if the person accused is willing to change their plea to guilty or no contest. An experienced DUI attorney can talk with you about the odds of that happening in your case and how to make it happen.
  • Motions to Suppress Evidence
    • A Motion to Suppress Evidence is an argument to the court that certain pieces of evidence in a case should not be allowed to be presented during trial because there is a legal basis to have that evidence kept out. There are a variety of different grounds to suppress evidence in a case and part of defending a DUI case is reviewing all of the evidence to see if there is a valid motion to file. If a Motion to Suppress Evidence is granted the State Attorney’s Office will not be permitted to put on certain evidence. In some cases, this will be one or two things. In other cases, it may be the all the evidence that the State Attorney’s Office has. Generally speaking, the less evidence the State Attorney’s Office is able to use at trial the more difficult it is for them to prove their case and get a conviction. This can lead to the case being dropped or the State Attorney’s Office offering a plea deal to a lesser charge. Whether or not to file a Motion to Suppress is up to the DUI attorney litigating the case.
  • Trial
    • Sometimes there is nothing a DUI attorney can do to get a case dropped or reduced, or a client does not feel comfortable entering a plea and accepting any sentence the State Attorney’s Office has proposed. In those situations, the final option is trial. Trial practice is a very unique part of the practice of law. An experienced trial attorney will have skills in jury selection, direct and cross examination, rules of evidence, as well as opening statement and closing arguments. These skills are used to fight on your behalf for a not guilty verdict. If a jury comes back with a not guilty verdict the defendant is free to go and faces no additional punishment or court dates on that charge.

The attorneys at Warren Law Firm, PLLC have years of experience handling Driving Under the Influence cases from both the prosecution and defense side. We are ready to take your case and defend you to the best of our ability, answering any and all questions you may have along the way. Call us today.

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