For most people, a DUI arrest is their first experience with the criminal justice system. It can be a stressful and nerve-wracking experience. You’ve spent a night in jail. Your car is impounded. Your driver’s license is taken from you, and you’re left with a few sheets of paper. Embarrassment, anger and confusion are common feelings following a DUI arrest. You are in a vulnerable spot and need calm, rational guidance.
Here’s a brief overview of what to expect over the next few months.
First, let’s talk about those three documents in your hand: the pink sheet; the booking report; and the cite report. Hang on to these. Make copies. Bring them to your consultation. The most important of these three documents is the pink sheet. It is your driver’s license for the moment. The booking report will have all of your identifying information including the time and date of your booking at the jail. The cite report will tell you when your first court date is.
Finding a Lawyer
Time is of the essence in all criminal cases, but especially in DUI cases. It is important that you speak with a lawyer as soon as possible. Even though on your court date is not for another month or so, it is essential that you decide on a lawyer within 10 days after your arrest. Why 10 days? Because you only have 10 days from the date of your arrest to request a DMV hearing. You don’t want to give up your rights.
If comfortable, reach out to your trusted friends and family members for a referral to a reputable DUI/Criminal Defense lawyer in the area. If you would rather do your own research, websites like Yelp and Avvo are becoming the most useful way to find a good local DUI lawyer. Online reviews make finding a good lawyer much easier without having to disclose your DUI arrest to friends and family.
When considering who to hire, I recommend you find a DUI lawyer who practices in the county where you were arrested. If you were arrested for a DUI in Napa, hire a Napa DUI lawyer. If you were arrested for a DUI in Santa Rosa, hire a Sonoma County DUI lawyer. It seems simple but there are real, tangible advantages to hiring a local attorney rather than someone from out-of-county.
Every case is different, and likewise, every lawyer is different. But most DUI/criminal defense lawyers operate on a flat fee basis rather than an hourly basis. This means you should anticipate a quote that you will need to pay in full at the beginning of the case in order to retain the lawyer. Some lawyers accommodate payment plans, some don’t. Every lawyer is different. A free initial consultation is common practice though.
Once you have retained a lawyer, he or she will take the burden off your shoulders and will start working your case. But you’re not completely off the hook yet. While the memory of your arrest is still fresh, I encourage clients to sit down and reflect on the entire day of the arrest, and write a narrative of the day from beginning to end. Be as detailed as possible, and don’t worry: your narrative is confidential and protected by the attorney-client privilege.
Your first court date is called the arraignment. At this hearing, you learn of the formal charges against you. If it is a misdemeanor—and most DUIs are—your lawyer will be able to appear for you without you needing to be there. Typically, your lawyer will enter not guilty pleas, receive the discovery (police reports), and set the next court hearing.
A few weeks after your arraignment will be a settlement conference hearing—or a motion to suppress hearing if applicable. The settlement conference hearing is an opportunity for your lawyer to try to negotiate a favorable settlement of your case with the District Attorney. It is common that your case will not be resolved on the first settlement conference. It takes time to get all of the discovery and for your lawyer to investigate all possible defenses or alternative sentences.
If the case cannot be resolved it will likely need to be set for a jury trial.
In the meantime, your DMV hearing—Administrative Per Se (APS) hearing—will likely occur about a month-and-a-half after the date of your arrest. This is a critical part of your DUI case because if you lose the hearing, or waive your right to the hearing, your license will be suspended. If this is your first DUI, your license will be suspended for four months. If this is your second DUI, then it is a one-year suspension.
You have the constitutional right to a jury trial when facing DUI charges. Realistically, your DUI trial would not occur until several months after your arrest because your lawyer is going to take time investigating your defense and retaining experts if necessary. DUI trials in Napa typically last three full days and start on Monday mornings. Keep in mind that going to jury trial will result in more attorney fees, but there are cases where the cost-benefit analysis favors going to trial.
At jury trial, the jury decides guilt or innocence. They do not decide your sentence. That is the judge’s responsibility. So if you are found guilty of a DUI at trial, the judge will determine your sentence at a later date, typically within a month of the verdict. Your lawyer will advocate for the most lenient sentence for you.
At your jury trial, problems may have occurred. The judge may have made an error. The prosecutor may have committed some type of misconduct. Or there may have been juror misconduct. If any of these are present, you may have a basis for an appeal.
A DUI conviction will remain on your record unless you take an action to get it removed from your record. This is called an expungement. Typically, clients seek an expungement of their conviction after they have successfully completed probation. DUI probation is generally for 3 years. However, it is possible to get your conviction expunged sooner by first filing for an early termination of probation, and then seeking an expungement.