A DUI or DWI case can be a lengthy and complex process. DUI cases consist of both a criminal case involving charges of DUI or DWI and an administrative case with the Motor Vehicle Administration regarding your driving privileges. If you have been arrested for DUI or DWI, the following is a step-by-step explanation of what you can expect during your case. The qualified attorneys at Phillips & Worthington can assist you every step of the way.
Traffic Stop and Arrest
Even in DUI cases, the state must prove that the police officer had a valid reason to make the initial traffic stop. This is called “probable cause,” and an officer must have probable cause to pull you over, no matter what happened after the stop was made. The most common reasons police give for making traffic stops for DUI include speeding, making inappropriate lane changes, weaving in and out of traffic, crossing the double line, tailgating, having a faulty brake light, blinker, or headlight, or being involved in an accident. The Supreme Court has ruled that police operating DUI checkpoints do not need probable cause to pull you over. Therefore, police at a DUI checkpoint may stop you at random and charge you not only with DUI, but also with other unrelated offenses.
Regardless of the reason for the stop, once an officer steps near your car and detects the scent of alcohol, you will most likely be asked to exit your vehicle and walk to the back of your car. As you do so, be aware that the officer will be observing your every move and recording your every word for use against you at trial. Actions such as fumbling to find your license, registration, or proof of insurance, leaning against your car, losing your balance, or slurring your speech will be recorded and used to prove that you were driving under the influence. In addition, any answers you provide to the officer’s questions will be duly noted and can be used against you in court.
At this point, the officer will typically attempt to persuade you to incriminate yourself in a variety of ways—by answering questions, performing field sobriety tests, and submitting to breath or blood tests. You may politely refuse to answer incriminating questions such as, “Have you been drinking tonight?” or “How much have you had to drink tonight?” In addition, you may also decline to take the field sobriety tests. If you decline and give as a reason, for example, that “you couldn’t even pass the test while sober,” it will be noted by the police officer and used as evidence of guilt at trial. There are no criminal or civil penalties for refusing to answer questions or refusing to take field sobriety tests.
In order to administer a breath test, the officer will likely transport you to the station at this time. Refusing to submit to a breath test will result in an automatic suspension of your license for 120 days for a first offense and 1 year for a subsequent offense. If the officer determines that you are under the influence, you will be placed under arrest and the booking process will begin.
Once you have undergone field and chemical sobriety tests and are placed under arrest, the next step is usually the booking process. During booking, you will most likely be fingerprinted, photographed, and asked to provide personal information, such as your name and address. In addition, you may be searched and your personal property may be confiscated by police. You will then be placed in a holding cell pending bail. Officers typically run a criminal background check at this time, as well.
Bail and Bond
Bail is the process by which you are permitted to pay money in exchange for being released from jail prior to your arraignment. If you cannot afford the full amount of bail, you may be permitted to post a percentage of the bail amount, or a bond, on the condition that the full amount of bail must be paid if the suspect fails to appear at any scheduled hearing. By posting bond or bail, you are promising to appear at all scheduled hearings in your case, or you stand to forfeit the money you have paid. Once you are released on bail, the personal property that was confiscated from you at the time of arrest will typically be returned to you.
First Administrative Hearing
Separate from your criminal case, your administrative hearings determine the status of your driving privileges. When you are arrested, your license is typically confiscated and you are issued a temporary license, which is valid for only 45 days. However, it may take longer than that to get a hearing. Therefore, you should request a hearing within 10 days of the order of suspension to prevent your license from being suspended prior to your hearing. The current fee for requesting a hearing is $125.
At your first administrative hearing, the judge has the authority to modify the terms of your suspension. If you can show that suspension of your license will result in a hardship, the judge may modify the length of the suspension or modify the terms of your suspension to allow you to drive to and from work or school. If you refused to submit to a breath test, the judge is not authorized to grant any of these modifications. In this case, if you agree to have an interlock device placed on your vehicle, you may be able to avoid suspension altogether.
Trial and Sentencing
At trial, the state will present evidence against you, and you will be given the opportunity to refute the state’s evidence, as well as present evidence of your own to defend against the state’s charges. The evidence the prosecutor uses against you at trial may include the results of your breath or blood test, the results of field sobriety tests and the arresting officer’s testimony as to your appearance, speech, and any voluntary admissions you made prior to arrest. Possible defenses may include proving that the machine used to conduct the breath test was inaccurate or faulty, introducing evidence of an independent chemical test that contradicts the state’s test, questioning witnesses that can attest to the fact that you were not impaired, or offering your own testimony in order to rebut the presumption that you were per se intoxicated. After the evidence is presented and both sides rest, then the jury will deliberate to determine whether you are guilty or not guilty of the charge of DUI or DWI. If you are found guilty, you have the right to appeal the decision. In an appeal, a higher court reviews the record of your trial for legal errors that may warrant a retrial or reduced sentence.
At sentencing, you will have the opportunity to present evidence that was not introduced at trial. In determining your sentence, the judge typically considers your criminal history, any injuries caused as a result of the DUI or DWI, your economic and social circumstances, and the level of remorse you have demonstrated over the course of the proceedings. In addition, if you are found guilty at trial, you may also be required to appear for a second administrative hearing with the MVA. A judge will determine if your driving privileges will be suspended for a longer period of time, revoked, or otherwise restricted.
Expungement of Your Record
Expungement refers to the removal of convictions from your criminal record that is publicly accessible by prospective employers, landlords, and others. Once a DUI charge has been expunged from your record, you are no longer required to disclose it to others when applying for a job or an apartment. In Maryland, DUI charges generally are not eligible for expungement for at least 10 years after the date of conviction.