Misdemeanor DUI Case - California DUI Law and Legal Information
California drivers arrested for a driving under the influence (DUI), or driving while intoxicated (DWI) often are unaware of the relationship between the arrest, the California Department of Motor Vehicles, driver's license suspension, and the criminal court.
DUI arrests trigger two separate cases - in California Criminal Court, and at the California DMV. Suspected drivers face a legal labyrinth that can seem frightening. California criminal defense attorney with experience defending DUI cases can help drivers navigate through both the California DMV hearing and the DUI criminal court.
The DUI arrest is the first stage in California criminal court process. Most misdemeanor drunk driving arrests occur when law enforcement officers including members of the California Highway Patrol (CHP), local police officers, or sheriff's deputies observe erratic driving patterns or signs of intoxication in the motorist's physical appearance. These observations form "probable cause," which is the legal basis for an arrest.
Once arrested, a driver may be held in custody and must post bail bond to be released, unless released on his or her own recognizance, known as OR. Bail bond is like an insurance policy guaranteeing the driver's appearance at the next court date. The bail amount is determined by a judge, and is based on the seriousness of the offense.
If the driver remains in custody, he or she must be arraigned within 48 to 72 hours after the arrest. If the motorist has been released from jail, the arraignment may be set at a later date.
During arraignment, suspected drunk driver will be informed of the charges and read his or her rights. The rights criminal defendants are entitled to include: the right to an attorney, the right to a jury trial, the right against self-incrimination, the right to confront witnesses, and the right to view evidence to be used against the individual in the criminal proceeding. Also, the driver will be required to enter a plea before the court. Possible pleas include not guilty, nolo contendere - commonly known as no contest - or guilty.
The submission of pretrial motions is the next phase in the criminal DUI court process. Pretrial motions can be submitted at the arraignment or heard at a later hearing date. Common pretrial motions include discovery motions, motion to suppress evidence, Pitchess motion, and other motions in limine.
During the court process, the prosecutor may offer the driver a plea bargain that allows the defendant a chance to plead guilty to a lesser charge. Sometimes accepting a plea bargain is a good idea, but in other circumstances it is not. An experienced California DUI defense lawyer can evaluate an individual case to determine whether a plea bargain is a good deal.
The next phase of the criminal DUI court process is the trial. A trial date is usually expressed as a "0 of 10 date" meaning that the defendant's right to a speedy trial will not be violated if the trial begins within 10 days of that date. If the trial does not begin on or before that day, the case must be dismissed. If the last day for trial falls on a weekend day or holiday, the next court day is the last day.
Once the trial starts, the prosecutor and defense attorney begin to select a jury. This process is known as "voir dire", or the examination of prospective jurors to determine their qualifications for service. Jurors can be excused "for cause" or at the discretion of the attorneys, which is known as a peremptory challenge. Once the jury is chosen, the trial begins.
California criminal DUI trials typically last several days. At the start of trial, both the defense and the prosecution give opening statements. Then they directly examine their own witnesses and cross-examine opposing witnesses. Finally, each side gives closing arguments. The judge then instructs the jury on how to apply the facts of the case to the law.
The next phase of the criminal DUI trial is jury deliberation. This is when jurors are given their first opportunity to discuss the facts of the case. When the jury reaches a conclusion, the foreperson announces the verdict to the court- guilty or not guilty. The judge, not the jury, decides the appropriate punishment, which may be enhanced by the facts of the case.
Even though our justice system is designed to protect the rights of criminal defendants, accused drunk drivers need expert legal help. California criminal defense attorney who focuses on defending DUI cases will develop a strategy to aggressively defend drunk driving case.