If you have been arrested for violating Vehicle Code section 23152(a) or section 23152(b), commonly called "DUI," you may be wondering about the court process. An outline of the process is below.
Arraignment. When you appear in court for the first time after being arrested for DUI, the charges against you will be read, and you must plead guilty, not guilty or no contest to the judge. The prosecuting attorney or judge will discuss if bail should be set, and if so, for how much. Both the prosecuting attorney and your attorney may file motions at this time. In most misdemeanor DUI cases, with certain paperwork, your attorney can attend the arraignment on your behalf and enter a plea of not guilty or continue the arraignment, depending on the specific circumstances of your case.
Pretrial. A pretrial hearing may be set during the arraignment in a misdemeanor case. At the hearing, the prosecuting attorney, the judge, and your attorney may discuss the case and may attempt to reach a settlement. More pretrial hearings may be necessary. In most misdemeanor cases, with certain paperwork, your attorney can attend on your behalf, sparing you the time and possible embarrassment of having to show up in court. If the case is not settled or dismissed, a date is set to begin the trial.
Preliminary Hearing. A preliminary hearing may be set at the arraignment in a felony case. Normally, drunk driving is a misdemeanor offense, unless it is a fourth or more offense, someone other than the driver was injured, or a child was present in the vehicle. In those circumstances, the charge may be a felony. At the preliminary hearing, the attorneys present basic evidence and the judge decides if the case can proceed. The defense has an opportunity to question witnesses, which can help determine whether the prosecution has a case against you. If the judge decides there is enough evidence to proceed, there will be a second arraignment where the plea must be re-entered.
DUI Trial. There are specific time limits to bring a case to trial. For misdemeanors, you have the right to have your trial brought within 30 days if you were in custody at the time of your arraignment, or within 45 days if you were not in custody at the time of your arraignment. For felonies, you have the right to have your case brought to trial within 60 days of the second arraignment. Often a case requires additional investigation or research before going to trial. Attorneys may ask for a "continuance," and your case may not go to trial for several months. The trial can take anywhere from a day to several weeks to complete, depending on the number of witnesses and expert witnesses the attorneys call to testify during trial.
Sentencing. If the jury enters a verdict against you, the sentencing phase of the trial begins. Your attorney may present evidence in your favor and may argue for minimum or alternative sentencing. You could go to jail for up to one year for a misdemeanor, or for more than one year for a felony. You may also have probation instead of, or in addition to, jail time.
Alternative Sentencing. In many cases, several alternatives to jail or prison are available for individuals convicted of DUI or those who are about to accept a plea agreement. Some alternative sentencing options include: Community Service, Alcohol/Drug Rehab Program, Electronic Monitoring (House Arrest), Residential Treatment, Sober Living Programs, or Probation.
Probation. Probation in misdemeanor cases can be either summary probation or supervised probation. For summary probation, you don't report to anyone, but you are required to obey all the terms of your probation. In supervised probation, you must report to a probation officer and obey all the terms of your probation. Any new criminal charge will result in a violation of your probation, which can result in jail time in addition to penalties for the new criminal charge.
Appeals. You always have the right to appeal a verdict or ruling, although you may end up having to go through the whole trial process again and hire an attorney who specializes in appeals.
Expungement. When probation is completed, you may be eligible for expungement. A motion for expungement is filed with the courts to ask that a guilty plea or verdict or no contest plea be changed to not guilty. While expungement is not a true clearance of your record, it can be extremely helpful, particularly when applying for private sector jobs.