After an arrest for driving under the influence in California, your DUI case begins to wind through the criminal courts. The pre-trial phase of DUI cases generally lasts the longest of all phases. Your California DUI defense lawyer investigates the DUI charges against you during the pre-trial phase of your case.
A DUI investigation may include several phases, such as:
- Searching for videos of the DUI stop and DUI arrest from dashcams, police officer body cams, traffic cameras, and nearby surveillance cameras
- Interviewing witnesses and taking statements from anyone involved in the case
- Subpoenaing records from the blood alcohol tests performed after your DUI arrest
- Obtaining copies of police reports to analyze the contents of the reports and information gathered by police officers
- Consulting expert witnesses, when necessary, concerning potential defenses to BAC results
The evidence gathered during the DUI pre-trial phase shapes the DUI defense strategy developed by your CA DUI attorney.
Court Schedules Pre-Trial Conferences and a Pre-Trial Hearing
As the case continues toward a jury trial or a bench trial, the judge assigned to the case may schedule one or more pretrial conferences and pre-trial hearings. Judges use pre-trial conferences to determine the status of the case and discourage parties from wasting time during the pre-trial phase. In addition, the judge may use a pre-trial conference to expedite the disposition of the case.
Defense lawyers and prosecutors may file one or more motions with the court during the pre-trial phase. These pre-trial motions may deal with various issues related to the case. The court schedules pre-trial hearings for the judge to hear each side’s argument to make a ruling in the case.
All parties generally attend a pre-trial hearing, including the defendant. The primary purpose of the hearing is to dispose of the matter in question and advance the case to trial or other disposition. Pre-trial hearings are not used to determine a defendant’s innocence or guilt. These hearings center on questions of law that the judge needs to decide before a trial begins.
Examples of pre-trial motions include, but are not limited to:
Motion to Suppress
If law enforcement officers or the prosecution obtained any evidence through illegal means, that evidence might be inadmissible at your trial. A motion to suppress evidence requests that the court review specific evidence to determine if it can be used at trial.
If the judge determines the evidence was illegally obtained or unjustly prejudices you, the judge can throw out the evidence. When evidence is inadmissible, the prosecution cannot introduce it in court. In other words, the jury never hears the evidence.
Therefore, the prosecution may not have sufficient evidence to convict you of the DUI charges. Winning a motion to suppress evidence at a pre-trial hearing may mean that the state drops the charges against you.
Probable Cause Hearing
Probable cause is required under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Police officers must have probable cause to initiate a DUI stop or make a DUI arrest. Lack of probable cause could result in the charges being dismissed.
Generally, a police officer must have a reasonable suspicion that a person is committing a crime or a crime has taken place to pull over a motorist. In other words, the police officer must have a reason for pulling over the driver to initiate a traffic stop. For example, the person was speeding or failed to use a turn signal.
Your attorney may attack probable cause in several ways. First, your attorney could argue that the police officer arrested you even though you passed all the field sobriety tests and did not show any signs of intoxication. He could argue that you were obeying the traffic laws and were not driving erratically when the police officer stopped you.
A Pitchess motion allows your attorney to learn more about the arresting officer’s history on the job by inspecting the officer’s personnel file. Information obtained about prior acts of police misconduct could be used in your case to support allegations of wrongdoing.
For example, your attorney may suspect that the police officer used excessive force or filed a false police report. Other information that could be useful includes records showing that the officer racially profiles suspects or falsified evidence.
Motion to Dismiss
There may be grounds to dismiss the DUI charges. If so, your lawyer files a motion to dismiss. The judge hearings the evidence presented by your lawyer and the prosecution’s arguments. After considering the matter, the judge could dismiss your DUI case or order that the case proceeds to trial.
What Happens After the Court Finishes All Pre-Trial Hearings?
The prosecution may offer you a plea bargain before your trial begins. If you plead guilty to the DUI charges, the prosecution agrees to a reduced charge and/or less harsh penalties. Before accepting a plea bargain, you should consider several important factors:
- You could get a reduced sentence that might not include jail time and other penalties that could cause you to miss work, such as community service and DUI school
- You might avoid a priorable offense if the prosecutor is willing to reduce the DUI charges to dry reckless or a speed ex
- You could avoid a mandatory ignition interlock device (IID) which can be costly and embarrassing
- You avoid the stigma of going to court for a DUI trial
- You might avoid the severe impacts a DUI conviction causes on car insurance rates
- Pleading down the charges could have less of an impact on professional licenses
- You might avoid losing your driving privileges or shorten the period of a suspended driver’s license
- The fees, fines, and assessments may be much lower if you accept a plea agreement
- Accepting a plea agreement takes away the uncertainty of a trial and the risk the judge could impose harsher penalties for a DUI conviction
However, you also need to consider that a plea agreement could still result in significant penalties and a priorable offense on your driving record. The facts and circumstances of your case dictate whether a plea agreement is the best option for dealing with a drunk driving charge. Your California DUI defense attorney can help you evaluate the pros and cons to make the best decision for your situation.
Going to Trial on DUI Charges in California
If the court does not dismiss the DUI case during pre-trial motions and you do not accept a plea deal, your case proceeds to trial. Both sides present evidence to the jury. The judge explains the law to the jury members, and the jury members return with a verdict.
Your CA DUI attorney may present one or more defenses to the drunk driving charges. Potential DUI defenses include, but are not limited to:
- Attacking the results of the BAC test results as inadequate because the machines were defective, inadequately maintained, or incorrectly calibrated
- Alleging that the police officers failed to administer the field sobriety tests correctly or mishandled the chemical test samples
- The lab performed the blood test with fermented blood
- Health conditions or illnesses caused DUI breath test errors, such as GERD, acid reflux, diabetes, etc.
- A high-protein diet resulted in falsely high BAC levels
- Your blood alcohol continued to rise after your DUI arrest, which resulted in a high BAC level that was not present when the police officers stopped you for suspected driving under the influence
- Title 17 violations related to the requirements for collecting, storing, and analyzing samples for chemical tests
- You have physical impairments or medical conditions that can cause you to appear intoxicated, such as allergies (red/watery eyes), diabetes (slurred speech from a sugar low), epilepsy, brain damage, etc.
- The officers based their probable cause for an arrest on non-standardized field sobriety tests
- Environmental conditions caused inaccurate field sobriety test results
- Your BAC was not over the legal limit, and the prosecution failed to prove your driving abilities were impaired by the amount of alcohol in your system
- The DUI checkpoint did not comply with current laws regulating police-organized drunk driving checkpoints
- You were not driving the vehicle at the time of the DUI stop
The defense strategy used at a California DUI trial depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. Being honest with your attorney is crucial. The more facts your attorney knows about what happened before, during, and after the DUI arrest can help your lawyer build a better defense for trial. It is not wise to talk with the police after a DUI arrest. You cannot talk your way out of a drunk driving charge. Anything you say can be used as evidence in your DUI trial.
Instead, it is best to remain silent except for asking for a criminal defense attorney. A California DUI defense lawyer explains your options for plea bargaining or going to court. The best way to protect your legal rights is to have an experienced DUI attorney handling your case. Most DUI law firms offer free consultations.