Process for DUI in Pennsylvania
Every DUI case should adhere to a very precise process. If you have been arrested for driving under the influence, you should immediately write down everything that happened in order to keep the information fresh in your mind. By contacting a DUI Attorney immediately, you can best relay the information to a professional who can make a preliminary determination as to whether this process was adequately followed and advise you how to proceed. Only by understanding the DUI process can you confer with your attorney and make the best decision possible.
DUI cases are considered a criminal offense in Pennsylvania and need to be treated with the appropriate care and concern. A sophisticated DUI attorney can do this by analyzing the scientific evidence, reviewing reports and videos, and retaining experts when necessary. It is important that you take the steps necessary to protect your rights and minimize the life-altering consequences that accompany a DUI arrest and conviction.
The Traffic Stop: DUI cases typically begin in one of two ways - either through an initial observation which provides the officer reasonable suspicion to make a stop or at a DUI checkpoint. Speeding, failure to wear a seatbelt, failure to obey posted signs, and numerous other less serious traffic violations can provide the reason for the initial stop. Driving erratically, swerving, failing to maintain a lane, etc. are traffic issues that officers are trained to associate with intoxicated drivers. Whether the stop is triggered by one of these observations or simply approach of a DUI checkpoint, the next phase is the same - personal contact. The officer will approach the vehicle and provide the individual instructions. Then the officer will ask the driver if they had anything to drink, all the while being less concerned with the answer than he is with the clues he is looking for, including: odor of alcohol, slurred speech, glossy or bloodshot eyes, and erratic behavior.
The Field Sobriety Testing: If the officer believes he observed any of the aforementioned clues, the officer will instruct the driver to exit the vehicle. At this point the individual will be asked to exit the vehicle and perform a number of physical tests called Field Sobriety Tests. These tests include the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the walk and turn (WAT) and the one-leg stand (OLS). It is also likely that a portable Breath Test will be administered. If the officer determines that the driver has failed these tests - which is a subjective analysis that will be questioned and analyzed by your attorney - then they will place the driver under arrest and take them to the station for processing and a Breathalyzer test or to the hospital, if necessary, where a blood test will be taken.
In some instances an individual will refuse testing and be arrested for suspicion of DUI. A refusal has similar consequences to a DUI and is of no legal benefit to the driver.
At the Police Station: The driver will have a Breathalyzer test performed and if they fail will be booked and likely read their Miranda rights. Miranda rights only trigger as necessary upon the officer both detaining and interrogating the individual. So while it is possible they will be read to the driver at any time after arrest, they must be provided if the officer beings to question the individual. After being jailed, if applicable, the individual will be released upon being picked up
by an individual contacted by the driver. It is possible that given the offense details that the individual will not be released and will remain in jail. An arraignment date will be provided.
The Arraignment: This is the first court hearing within a DUI criminal charge. This is a formal hearing where the judge will advise the individual of the charges against them, explain the penalties, advise them of their right to counsel, and request a plea of guilty or not guilty. Another date will be scheduled, allowing the individual the opportunity to retain counsel and prepare a defense.
Court Appearances: Future court appearances will be scheduled. The attorney and the prosecutor will take this opportunity to discuss the case, exchange discovery materials, and reach a plea if possible. Additionally, the attorney will appear with you before the judge and inform the judge of the case's status, also allowing the judge the opportunity to address both client and counsel as the judge deems necessary. At some juncture, either a plea will be reached or the case will be listed for trial.
The Trial: The prosecution carries the burden. As this is a criminal offense, the standard the prosecution must meet is "beyond a reasonable doubt". They must prove that it is beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver was driving a motor vehicle and was driving under the influence at the time. However, the prosecution is able to do this using EITHER Observation (the field sobriety test results and officer testimony) or the Breathalyzer data. It is for this reason that it is essential that your attorney do the appropriate investigation and advise you as to whether trial or a plea is your best option, in the event the prosecution does not dismiss the case. At trial your attorney will thoroughly contest the prosecution's evidence in order to prevent them from using either the Observation results or Breathalyzer data.
Sentencing: If the driver pleads guilty or is convicted, the judge will sentence them. Typically, when pleading guilty the driver will receive less severe penalties as agreed to in negotiation with the prosecutor. The judge will decide on the punishment and read it into the record.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
The entire process is complicated and lengthy, requiring the expertise of a DUI lawyer along the way. This is a criminal offense and any driver charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania should seek out an aggressive attorney to fight on their behalf and minimalize any penalties
This content was written on behalf of Greg Prosmushkin.