What Happens When You Are Charged With a DUI?
Every year, roughly 1.5 million people are arrested for drunk driving. If you are one of the many people facing drunk driving charges, it’s understandable to feel worried and confused. Knowing what to expect can help this time feel less stressful and overwhelming.
Deciding Whether or Not to Plead Guilty
One of the first steps after your DUI arrest is deciding what your plea will be. At the arraignment hearing, you will hear the charges against you and have the option of pleading guilty, not guilty, or no contest. In most cases, people will plead not guilty. Even if there is a lot of potential evidence with you, it is better to start with a not-guilty plea. This gives your Morristown criminal defense lawyer more time to make your case and find reasons that you should not be convicted or get a severe sentence.
It is rare for a person to plead guilty at the arraignment or during the early parts of their case unless they have already developed a plea bargain with the state. A plea bargain is a deal where you agree to plead guilty in return for the state providing you with a specific sentence. The prosecution will often push a plea bargain because it saves the state time. A plea bargain can be a way to get a reduced sentence when the evidence is stacked against you. However, these terms might not be favorable. It is never a good idea to accept a plea bargain without having a lawyer carefully consider your case.
Considering Possible Defenses to DUI Charges
After your arraignment, your Morristown criminal defense lawyer will work with you to prepare a case. There are several steps in their preparation, including gathering evidence on your behalf and meeting with the prosecution to discuss your case. They may talk with medical experts, interview witnesses, or try to find security camera footage of your drive or your traffic stop. All of these steps focus on finding a good defense against your DUI charges.
One option is claiming that the police did not behave correctly. If your lawyer can show that the evidence against you was collected illegally, the evidence cannot be used to convict you. A common reason to throw out DUI evidence is that there was no probable cause. If an officer did not have a reason to pull you over and ask to check your blood alcohol levels, your case might be dismissed. Other improper behavior like failing to tell you your rights or ask consent before a breathalyzer may negate evidence against you.
Your lawyer may also be able to cast doubt on the amount of alcohol in your system. If the traffic stop used nonstandard sobriety tests like asking you to repeat the alphabet backwards, it is very hard for the prosecutors to prove you were under the influence. These sorts of tests can have uncertain results since alcohol affects everyone differently. Even more scientific options like breathalyzers might not provide foolproof evidence. Breathalyzers tend to be very faulty equipment. If you use it improperly or if it is broken, your result might not be valid. Certain medical conditions, like acid reflux or dental work, can cause alcohol to linger in your mouth and further throw off your results. Your DUI lawyer may be able to bring in medical experts who can testify on your behalf and show why breathalyzer results should not be used in your case.
Another common DUI defense is proving that you were not actually in control of the car. In New Jersey, you can only be convicted of a DUI if you are over the legal alcohol limit and are operating the car. “Operating” is a very broad term that can include things like sitting in the driver’s seat while the engine is running or sitting in a car parked on the side of the highway. However, your lawyer might be able to argue you were just in the car while waiting to sober up. For example, if you were in the backseat of a car parked by a bar, your lawyer could potentially prove you were not in control of the vehicle while drunk.
Pleading Your Case in Court
After going through the arraignment and the evidence-gathering process, it will be time for your actual court date. On the appointed day, you will arrive at court with your lawyer and any witnesses on your behalf. Depending on your type of DUI, you may just appear before a judge, or there may be a jury present too. Most DUI cases will not be as dramatic as the courtroom cases that you see on television. For most of the trial, you will just sit quietly and watch evidence be presented to the court.
The prosecution will have an opportunity to present any evidence against you, and your lawyer will have the chance to question witnesses or question the admissibility of the evidence. Next, you have a chance to defend yourself. Your lawyer might ask you to go on the witness stand, or they might present a statement on your behalf. After both sides have a chance to present and challenge evidence, the court will deliberate your case. They can find you guilty, find you not guilty, or declare a mistrial.
Finding Ways to Reduce Your Sentence
In the unfortunate event of a conviction, you still have many options available to you. Not all DUI charges result in the same sentence. The right lawyer making the right argument in court can mean that you avoid jail time or other major consequences. Therefore, if a conviction seems likely, your Morristown DUI lawyer will start doing what they can to get you a favorable sentence. Potential sentencing can include jail time, fines, addiction treatment, community service, and suspension of your driving privileges.
The biggest factor in your DUI sentence will simply be whether or not anyone was injured because of your actions. In New Jersey, if you are convicted of a DUI but did not harm anyone, you might avoid jail or only get around 180 days. Therefore, your lawyer might go over any accidents you were involved in and attempt to show that the accident or injuries were not your fault. Likewise, your attorney might argue that any property damage that occurred was not entirely your fault. This can help reduce the dollar amount of the fines or the number of other penalties that you face.
When arguing for a lighter sentence or less jail time, your attorney can also bring up your character. They may try to show that the DUI was a one-time mistake that you deeply regret and emphasize that it will never happen again. Your lawyer may bring up things like your family that depends on your paycheck to show why you would be better served by options like community service instead of jail time.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a DUI, the law firm of Gregg Wisotsky is here to help. As a trusted Morristown criminal defense lawyer, we have plenty of experience helping people fight against these sorts of charges. To discuss your case and see if we can help, call 973-898-0161 or fill out our contact form.