Legal Professional?
Build Your Business

The Stages of a DUI DWI Case



A DUI, also known as a DWI in some states, is no small crime. Repeated offenses can result in a DUI felony, which has a much harsher penalty than a regular DUI, which is a misdemeanor. Because a DUI can be a very serious crime, you should educate yourself on the stages of a DUI case.

You will also want to hire a DUI attorney to represent you in court. Doing so may help prevent you from getting slapped with a harsher sentence.

Getting Arrested for DUI

The first stage of a DUI case is the arrest. In some states, a DUI can only occur if you are actually driving your vehicle. However, in other states, you can be arrested for a DUI if you just have your key in the car's ignition.

When you are stopped by a police officer and he or she suspects you may be intoxicated, he or she will issue what is known as a field sobriety test. A field sobriety test comes in three varieties:

  • The one-leg stand test: You are asked to stand with your arms to the side and one foot six inches off the ground.
  • The walk-and-turn test: You are asked to walk in a straight line, placing your feet heel to toe. You must then turn around and walk back in the same manner.
  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus test: You must follow a moving object with your eyes while keeping your head stationary.

If you fail your field sobriety test, the officer will then have probable cause to arrest you. Probable cause means the reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime. You may also be asked to take a breathalyzer test to gauge your blood-alcohol level.

Contacting Your Attorney

Once you are placed under arrest on suspicion of DUI, you will want to exercise certain constitutional rights afforded to you.

First, you will have the right to remain silent. This means that you do not have to answer any questions from police at the time of your arrest. This right is to help prevent you from incriminating yourself.

You will also have the right to an attorney. You should definitely exercise this right. You will be allowed to use a phone to contact a DWI attorney, who will then be allowed to represent you during questioning.

If you cannot afford a DUI lawyer, you will have the right to have one appointed to you. This type of attorney is known as a public defender.

The DUI Arraignment

Within several days of your DUI arrest, you will have your arraignment. The arraignment is when you appear in court and respond to the charges brought against you. This response is known as your plea.

For your plea, you will have several options:

  • Guilty: You admit to committing the offense
  • Not guilty: You claim you did not commit the offense
  • No contest: You do not admit guilt, but you also do not dispute the facts of the case

The judge then may set bail, which is the amount of money you will have to provide in order to be released pending your trial.

DUI Preliminary Hearings

The preliminary hearings are your attorney's opportunity to size up the prosecutor's case against you. The prosecutor is the party who is trying to prove your guilt. At this hearing the prosecutor's evidence is presented to the judge, who must then decide whether there is enough evidence to possibly convince a jury of your guilt.

This is also your opportunity to plea bargain. Plea bargaining is when your attorney strikes a deal with the prosecution where you admit guilt in exchange for a lighter sentence. However, some states do not allow plea bargaining for DUI cases.

Pre-Trial Motions

Before the trial takes place, your attorney may attempt to block damaging evidence from being presented. Some of the evidence your attorney may try to fight to keep out of court includes:

  • Results of a blood-alcohol content test
  • Physical evidence confiscated from your vehicle such as bottles and cans
  • Any statements you may have made to the arresting officer that could incriminate you

The DUI Trial

If your case ends up going to trial, it will begin with jury selection. After this, both attorneys will get the opportunity to deliver their opening statements and then proceed to present evidence and witnesses.

Closing arguments are given at the end of the trial, and the jury will then make their decision of whether to find you guilty or not guilty.

If you are found guilty, the judge will issue a sentence, which could include one or more of the following:

  • A fine
  • A light jail sentence
  • A long-term jail sentence for more serious incidents
  • Probation
  • DUI school
  • Drug or alcohol counseling
  • Community service

In addition, you may want to look at getting a DUI expungement if you are found guilty. Because a DUI will show up on your criminal record, which may hinder a job search, expunging the DUI can help ensure that a potential employer does not find out about your infraction.