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Depending on the laws of your state, a DUI trial can resemble a good many other kinds of jury trials. Once you have secured the services of a DUI attorney, or other legal expert in the state where you reside, you can get specific advice on what the procedures may be for your state. In general, your DUI lawyer will take part in jury selection, make opening statements, and ask may questions of the arresting officer. Evidence will be called, and your DUI defense may well depend on contesting that evidence and demonstrating that it was either inaccurate, poorly handled or administered in the case of breath tests or other sobriety checks.
Your DUI attorney will give a closing argument, the jury will be given instructions, and then they will go behind closed doors to decide the verdict. A California DUI defense may be successful, but in the event of a guilty verdict, you may have to await sentencing at a later date. Your California (or other state) DUI lawyer may be allowed to make an appeal or will be given instructions on when you are to appear to receive a sentence.
One of the "hidden" penalties of a DUI trial, a felony charge, and the need for a good drunk driving defense is elevated insurance premiums or cancelled policies as a result of a DUI trial, felony charge, or DUI conviction.
Many insurance companies don't know right away when a DUI is entered onto your record. Once they do find out, you may be placed into a high-risk category, or have your insurance cancelled altogether.
A good DUI attorney will tell you that you will probably be required to furnish proof of insurance to the Department of Motor Vehicles for a proscribed period of time following a DUI trial. Ask any professional legal expert and they will tell you that insurance companies usually have a limited time to act after a DUI conviction to raise your rates or cancel your policy.
That is good news for those facing a DUI trial, but if your company does cancel your insurance, you will have to try to get another policy with that blemish on your record.
If you are charged with driving under the influence, or driving while intoxicated, you may hear your DWI attorney talk about enhancements to your charges. An enhancement is any aggravating circumstance that can be used to heap more penalties on you if your DUI defense fails and you are found guilty.
Felony charges are often complicated by enhancements. In DUI cases, these enhancements can include things such as the presence of minors, prior convictions, prior DUI-related offenses, refusing a chemical test, and many others. Your drunk driving defense depends in part on minimizing these enhancements.
Going in to a DUI trial, you need all the expertise and legal experience you can get. Your lawyer should want to fight tooth and nail to have you cleared. Your DUI defense depends greatly on how tough-minded the lawyer is. That said, your DWI attorney should be realistic with you about your chances with a "not guilty" plea. Your drunk driving defense depends on having a reasonable expectation of success.
If your attorney can't paint you a realistic picture of how the trial could go given the details of your case, fire the lawyer and move on. Don't be fooled by an excessively optimistic or unrealistic explanation from your DUI lawyer.
If the facts of your case clearly warrant a different outcome that a "not guilty" verdict, you will need counsel that can negotiate a plea or reduced sentence; in other words, someone who can expertly argue in your favor even if the verdict is not ideal.
Many states have something called a "washout period" for people convicted at a DUI trial. The period varies from state to state, but the washout period is basically the length of time when another drunk driving offense is considered a second or third offense. After this time is up, the original conviction "drops off" and any new DUI incidents are treated as a first offense.
Some states keep that first offense on the books a long time. The California washout period is 10 years, calculated from the date of the first offense to the date of the second. If you find yourself in need of a California DUI lawyer, one of the first things a competent lawyer will do is check to see if you are affected by the washout period. Be sure to mention that you want these dates checked, no matter what state you live in.
Some DUI lawyers report an alarming trend of overzealous charges filed against people accused of driving under the influence of alcohol. In some cases, this type of "over-filing" is used to bring felony charges where none are warranted, up to and including murder charges in cases that clearly warrant manslaughter charges instead.
If you fear a felony conviction based on over-filing of DUI charges, your best possible DUI defense is to hire a lawyer skilled in fighting DUI charges. However, this is not enough. Your DUI lawyer will need any ammunition you can bring to court. Do you have eyewitnesses who can attest to your actual state behind the wheel and are willing to testify as to the facts of the incident in question? Do you have photographic evidence of any kind that can prove you were doing what you claim to have done? Any kind of evidence, no matter how unimportant it may seem to you now, could be of great importance.
One particular kind of witness that is often overlooked? Bartenders. If you have a bartender as a witness for the defense, your lawyer may be able to convince the jury of your innocence based on such "expert" testimony. You may think it's grasping at straws to call the bartender as your witness, but in a DUI case, especially one that carries a felony charge, you'll want all the help you can get. If they can vouch for you in court, get the testimony on the record.
It seems like common sense, but when you need the services of a DUI lawyer, or any other state-certified legal expert, there are a few things to keep in mind when preparing for a DUI trial.
One of the first things you should do when preparing to retain an attorney is to ask about his or her track record when it comes to handling a potential DUI felony conviction. Have they won cases similar to yours? Do they have the right amount of experience?
Some will try to put on a very confident front while avoiding a very direct question. If your potential DUI lawyer can't or won't answer a very simple and direct question, such as "How many DUI cases have you won?" you should move on. Don't feel guilty or bad for refusing to hire someone who can't answer your questions. You are paying a lot of money to fight a possible felony conviction; you have the right to the best defense you can find.
Many DUI lawyers, upon reviewing the facts of a particular felony charge, will advise a client to forgo a "not guilty" plea. You may be angered when you first hear this advice, but try to keep an open mind. Your drunk driving defense may not stand up in court, or the DUI lawyer has seen the outcome of your particular DUI defense, and knows a better way to go.
Pleading guilty may be your best bet for a number of reasons. If you have no issues with a DUI washout period, or other state DUI laws, a first-time offense may be plea-bargained for a reduced punishment. Your DUI lawyer or other state counsel could get you into alcohol counseling, driving school, or community service as an alternative to incarceration, heavy fines, or other punishments. A guilty plea may actually work in your favor in a DUI trial. Being found guilty will bring much stronger punishment!
Many states will elevate a drunk driving case to a felony charge if the driver has a prior offense on the books. A felony DUI conviction can be the result. A felony DUI charge can also come if there is sufficient property damage, injury, or death as a result of the incident.
Ask any California DUI attorney, Florida DUI lawyer, or any other trained professional; you'll soon learn a felony conviction for DUI can bring as little as three to five years or probation, or as much as jail time and the suspension of your license. There are also thousands of dollars in fines, court costs, and lawyer fees to contend with.
These penalties are only for the first offense! If you find yourself in need of a DUI defense, it is critical that you get a competent, experienced drunk driving attorney immediately.
When you decide on a lawyer, there is one major factor that can help you avoid a felony conviction for DUI. A DUI lawyer can't assemble an adequate California DUI defense (or any state, for that matter) without absolute honesty from the client. Never hold back information, mislead, or distort the facts in your case.
If you hold back information, the lawyer can't give you proper counsel. Your plea depends on your entire story, as does your defense. Tell your DUI attorney everything you can remember, and let the DUI lawyer decide how to assemble a drunk driving defense that can realistically hold up in a DUI trial.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|