An arrest for driving under the influence in Virginia is often someone's first experience with the criminal justice system. Many people base their understanding of the court system on what they see in courtroom dramas and in the movies. The reality of a criminal case is not like TV. Things move very quickly and anyone accused of a crime should seek assistance from an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help them through the process.
A Virginia criminal defense attorney will show up for you in court, explain your options, investigate your case, and fight to keep a criminal conviction off your record. After reviewing this page on the court process after a Virginia DUI arrest, contact Charlottesville attorney Thomas M. Wilson with any questions about your case.
Chemical Test and Booking
Once the police take you into custody to be taken to jail, nothing you say will likely change the officer's mind. The officer will take you to the police department or sheriff's office to complete the arrest and booking procedure. This generally involves getting a chemical test, usually a breath test for an alcohol DUI. This chemical breath test can be used as evidence against the individual in a DUI case.
You will then have to appear before a magistrate judge. The officer will provide information about the traffic stop and the arrest. The magistrate may decide to release you on your own recognizance or keep you in jail.
If the court will not release you, the court may hold (or you may have to request) a bond hearing. The bond hearing will determine what amount has to be put up to release you. Most first-time DUI arrest suspects do not pose a serious flight risk or risk to the public's safety.
Bond can be unsecured (without the need to put up money or collateral), or a secured bond. If you or your family has the money to post a cash bond, that should secure your release. Otherwise, your family may have to pay a bail bonds company, usually amounting to 10% of the bond.
When Should You Contact a DUI Lawyer?
When you are arrested for a DUI, you should contact a DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Even while you're being booked into jail, your family should consider contacting an attorney to help get you released as soon as possible. The earlier you contact a lawyer, the more time your lawyer will have to investigate your claim and build your case.
DUI Arraignment and Formal Charges
An arraignment is the process of reading the formal charges against a defendant. If you have an attorney, you may not have to show up for an arraignment and the arraignment can generally be waived for a DUI case.
If you do not hire an attorney, you will have to appear for the arraignment. The court will advise you of the DUI charges against you, the right to have an attorney, and the date of the upcoming trial.
The court may advise you that you have the right to an attorney if you cannot afford one. However, this does not mean that everyone gets a lawyer. You may have to prove to the court that you cannot afford a lawyer, which may require showing that you are below a certain income level or do not have enough financial resources.
Plea Bargain Process
After the arraignment, the next process in your court case will generally involve talking to the prosecutor. Depending on the strength of your case, it may be in your best interest to take a plea deal. The prosecutor may offer to drop some charges, reduce charges, or ask for a lighter sentence in exchange for you agreeing to plead guilty.
In some cases, the prosecutor will try and bring as many criminal charges as possible. The purpose is to use these extra charges as bargaining chips to get you to agree to a deal.
If you hire an experienced Charlottesville DUI defense lawyer, your attorney will be in a better position to negotiate a deal for you. If the prosecutor's case is strong, your attorney may have a number of DUI defenses to weaken the prosecutor's case. If your case is strong, then there may be no need to negotiate and your lawyer can tell the prosecutor to drop the charges or proceed to trial.
Taking Your DUI Case to Trial in Virginia
Many criminal cases are settled before they get to trial. It can take a long time to get a case to trial and the trial itself may take a lot of time. However, a jury trial or bench trial may be the only way to contest criminal charges.
In felony DUI cases, before a trial starts, your attorney may file pretrial motions. These are legal issues that the judge will address before the case goes before a jury. This often involves a motion to suppress evidence. If the police violated your rights during the traffic stop or arrest, the prosecutor should not be able to use that illegally gained evidence in court. A motion to suppress evidence will keep that evidence out of court.
In jury cases, after pretrial motions, the court will select the jury, trying to eliminate jurors who cannot be impartial. The case will then be presented to the jury, with the prosecutor then defense attorney presenting their side of the case. This will include introducing evidence, presenting testimony, and expert witnesses. Each side will also have the chance to respond.
After presenting final arguments, the jury will convene to come to a decision on whether you are guilty or not guilty of each of the charges. This may be the end of the court process if the jury comes back with a not-guilty verdict. If the jury finds you guilty, you may be able to file an appeal.
Charlottesville DUI Defense Attorney
If you have any questions about the court process after a Virginia DUI arrest, talk to an experienced Charlottesville criminal defense lawyer about your case. Contact me today for a free consultation at 434-979-0308.