Often, it’s not what you know about what happened that matters most in these cases. Instead, it’s what evidence is presented against you and what evidence the prosecutor thinks they will be able to supply to a judge or jury when trying to prove the case against you.
Therefore, the importance of building your defense rarely lies in whether you have any particular memory of how events unfolded or whether you are 100% about the facts of your case. Unfortunately, if your account of events is not portrayed in the police reports, the judge or jury usually won’t see it in an ideal light.
So, again, I tell people it’s not what you think or even know about what happened; it’s about the evidence that prosecutors will present against you. So therefore, to build a strong DUI defense, it’s crucial to take a multi-faceted approach.
Entering A Plea At Arraignment
Your first appearance before a judge is called an arraignment hearing. During this initial hearing, you will enter your plea of Guilty or Not Guilty.
At this early stage of the process, it’s very rare to enter a guilty plea. The goal at this point (for the defense and the prosecution) is primarily to get the ball rolling and begin the legal process. Additionally, the court will use this opportunity to advise you of your constitutional rights and provide information about the potential consequences that might come with a criminal charge.
In the likely event that you enter a Not Guilty plea to begin the process, you will be entered into the court system and get rescheduled for a new court date – commonly called a pre-trial conference hearing.
It’s important to remember that your first appearance in court at the arraignment hearing is not a trial, and you will not be convicted on the spot. Instead, at your arraignment hearing, you will be advised of your rights, enter a plea of Not Guilty, and be able to start a discussion with your attorney about how you will investigate the case more thoroughly and what your options are moving forward.
After A Plea Is Entered
After your Not Guilty plea is entered and the process gets rolling, the next step is discovery. During discovery, your attorney will begin gathering information and thoroughly review police reports, any video or body-cam footage, and any other documentation that the prosecutor might try to use as evidence against you at trial.
From there, it’s always good to sit down with the attorney and review all the evidence yourself. This will give you an opportunity to discuss your options moving forward. In addition, you can gain expert insight into your case outlook, explore defense strategies, and potentially discuss any plea negotiations or other offers of resolution that you may have received from the prosecutor’s office.
Keep in mind, however: trial doesn’t happen that quickly.
After the arraignment hearing and initial period of discovery, the pre-trial conference hearing will come next. This can be thought of as a “get-together” hearing where we will discuss three things:
- Whether or not more time is needed to prepare the case. (In which case, we will ask for another pre-trial conference.)
- Whether or not the parties believe they will be able to resolve the case before trial.
- Whether or not the parties are going to set the case and take it to trial. (If no further time is needed and the case will not resolve.)
The Prosecution’s Burden Of Proof
To find a guilty conviction, a prosecutor’s legal obligation (burden of proof) is to demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, the following:
- That the defendant was guilty of both the underlying offense and a DUI on that particular date and at that particular time.
- That the defendant was driving a motor vehicle within the local jurisdiction.
- That the defendant was under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs – and that their ability to drive was affected in some way.
- That the defendant was guilty of driving above the per se limit. (With a BAC of 0.08 for alcohol, or 5 nanograms of THC for marijuana.)
Plausible DUI Defenses
DUI is considered a strict liability offense. This generally means that you don’t have defenses common to other criminal cases. For example, in an assault case, you may claim that you committed an illegal act in self-defense.
When it comes to DUI, there are no similar defense strategies. You can rarely claim that you “had” to drive under the influence. Therefore, if you claim that you drove under the influence, you are strictly liable for that action, and you can be found guilty.
When it comes to DUI defense, the strategy is almost solely focused on evaluating the evidence brought forth by law enforcement and finding flaws in the prosecution’s case. For example, your DUI defense strategy might be built around issues that come up in the context of an officer’s motivation for conducting a traffic stop; the officer’s reasonable suspicion of a DUI; the following of proper protocol while administering roadside tests; the proper procurement and use of a search warrant for blood tests; and more.
In conclusion, the most robust DUI defenses are usually found when law enforcement fails to follow proper procedural code or when the information in a police report is inaccurate and unreliable. If it is found that improper procedure was used or that certain forms of evidence are not accurate – this evidence may be suppressed or thrown out of the case. At which point, it will not be considered when presenting information to a jury.