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DUI conundrum

The DUI conundrum – Knowing your legal status and being aware of your constitutional rights

Knowing your constitutional rights and being aware of your legal situation following a DUI booking gives you a fairly reasonable level of protection. Ignorance of legal niceties and lack of clarity on basic issues can see you lose heavily in court proceedings where judgments can easily move against your better interests.

Basic rights that are guaranteed by our constitution

  • The right to legal representation allows you to hire a lawyer to represent you in all proceedings.
  • You can insist that your trial be conducted before a jury that will be fair and not biased against you.
  • Your testimony is not essential to hearings as a lawyer speaks on your behalf and your statements can’t be used to present evidence against your interests.
  • You are free to cross examine any witness that is arraigned against you.
  • You can arrange to present your own witnesses to testify in your favor in court.
  • You are free to appeal if you are judged as guilty by the judge.
  • If you plead not guilty the court will have to treat you as being innocent till proved otherwise.

Court must determine guilt beyond reasonable doubt in a DUI charge

It is for the prosecution to determine and prove beyond reasonable doubt that you were driving under the influence of alcohol or while in a state of intoxication, and your BAC exceeded .08 percent the moment you were stopped and questioned.

You must be tried expeditiously

The DUI offender has to be tried within 90 days of the first court hearing. This period is further reduced to 60 days if the offender is jailed. Failure to adhere to time stipulations could allow the case to be dismissed.

Educating you on legal expenses is a must

In defending your interests you have the right to be advised of the nitty-gritty of court related expenditure. The lawyer must keep you in the larger picture about the money you owe him for his legal services, and the money you owe the court by way of court fees.

You can plead for treatment / rehabilitation in lieu of punishment or sentencing

The defense attorney can, based on a “guilty” plea, request the court to defer punishment for a maximum of 5 years to enable his client to undergo de-addiction or rehabilitation for symptoms of mental sickness or alcohol addiction or drug abuse. Such judgments can be delivered within the boundaries of legal provisions, but the treatment cost has to borne by the defendant. If the program is successful the case is dismissed and the defendant is a free man. If the program fails for any reason, the guilty charge gets reinstated and the sentencing proceeds as originally envisaged.

The procedural steps that are part and parcel of the DUI hearing

  • Lawyer notifies the court that he is your attorney and he will be representing you in court proceedings.
  • You have to lodge a request for hearing by paying appropriate fees to the court and advocate, and follow up to ensure the hearing is held within 60 days of your arrest.
  • The lawyer, in response to the notice of appearance, intimates the court in writing that you are pleading “not guilty” to charges and a copy of that plea is sent to the prosecuting attorney. The court is also requested to list the evidences that the prosecution intends to use against the defendant to prove the DUI charges. Normally, a single hearing is sufficient to arrive at a verdict, but if there are complications or multiple witnesses to be cross examined it is possible that judge may order a trial and hold more than two or three hearings.

The importance of attending court hearings and appointments

It is crucial that you personally attend all hearings and keep meticulous track of dates and appointments (the lawyer does that for you if you engage his services). Any failure to attend hearings could see you losing the benefit of pretrial motions that are crucial for explaining to the judge why certain evidences shouldn’t be recorded or why some prosecution witnesses may be irrelevant to the trial or cannot testify. Your absence may also result in cancellation of bail and issuance of an arrest warrant, besides suspension of your driving license. Hearings can be expected within a month of detention and the time taken to call hearings is not supposed to go beyond 60 days of the arrest.

Being aware of the seriousness of DUI charges

As long as the matter is sub judice you cannot and should not discuss issues and complexities with any person other than your lawyer, and if at all you are compelled to answer questions it should be done only in the presence of your lawyer.

Attempting to question or contact prosecution witnesses is frowned upon and you could be successfully accused of intimidating the witness or manipulating testimony or destroying evidence. The wiser alternative would be to keep your lawyer informed of the ways in which prosecution witnesses can help you in strengthening testimony in your favor.

Every DUI hearing is different and the judge could be overseeing testimony on incidents that may be unique to your case. Analyzing the process of appraising a DUI violation, and understanding ones rights and the legal consequences of a DUI verdict can help defendants stay on the right side of proceedings and emerge successful in fighting a “not guilty” plea.

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