DUI Court Process in Pittsburgh | Our Defense Attorneys Can Help

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If you or someone you care about are facing DUI charges in PA, and must appear in court, you need legal representation. The DUI court process in Pennsylvania can be complicated with several procedures, hearings, and paperwork.

If you need help after being charged with driving under the influence in the Pittsburgh area, call the DUI attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC. Our team has decades of experience successfully representing clients in all DUI situations. They can guide you through the DUI arraignment and respond to any inquiries you may have.

Call 412-281-2146 to schedule a free and confidential DUI evaluation.

DUI Court in Pennsylvania

In line with Pennsylvania DUI laws, the court features four crucial stages. They include the preliminary hearing, the formal hearing, the pre-trial conference, and the DUI trial. The process has a fifth stage if there’s an appeal to a DUI conviction. However, not all of these steps will occur before a judge.

In this short video, Pittsburgh DUI defense lawyer Michael Worgul explains the Pennsylvania DUI court process and what you can expect.

Going to Court for a Pittsburgh DUI: Step-by-Step

If you’ve been processed and arrested for a DUI, it’s crucial to know what to expect as you prepare for your court date. This guide will walk you through the steps involved in going to court for a DUI charge in Pittsburgh, offering insights and advice to help you navigate the system more effectively.

Step One – Your DUI Arrest

Usually, a DUI arrest would occur when at a traffic stop or in a car accident. The Police typically use field sobriety tests in Pennsylvania to find out if an individual is driving under the influence of alcohol. If the officer confirms his suspicion through the test, he makes the arrest. At this point, you should immediately call a lawyer skilled at defending against DUI charges in PA.

According to the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) laws PA, if one is arrested for a DUI, the police take the suspect to a hospital or the Easton DUI Center so they can provide blood tests. Your lawyer should be present to ensure the blood is drawn correctly and by a professional.

Step One – Your DUI Hearing

The first step is the preliminary hearing. After your arrest, you will receive a summons with an appearance date in court in the mail after a few days or weeks. You must arrive at the court location at the time specified on the summons. The preliminary hearing is the most crucial phase of the DUI court process in PA.  In this stage, the prosecution tries to prove to the judge that you are guilty of the DUI offense.

A DUI lawyer should represent you during the hearing and work to have some or all of the charges in PA dropped. However, your case will be sent to the Court of Common Pleas for your arraignment if the prosecutors successfully meet their burden of proof and the magistrate finds probable cause.

In rare occasions, a defendant may choose to waive their preliminary hearing. In this case, the defendant seeks an option called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD). This option is used as a calculated move to speed up the court process in special DUI diversionary programs. This means the defendant admits to the charge, pleads with the court, and gets help from medical professionals instead of facing the consequences of a DUI in Pennsylvania.

Step Two – Formal DUI Arraignment

The formal arraignment, which occurs at the Court of Common Pleas, is the second step. Here, the charges against you will be read aloud and recorded, and you can enter a guilty or not-guilty plea.

If the prosecution successfully establishes its case against you for DUI, you must appear in person at the Court of Common Pleas for a formal arraignment.

This process allows you and your lawyer to access the police reports from the time of your arrest and the breathalyzer or blood test results. These pieces of evidence have another purpose besides being essential for constructing your defense. Your lawyer may be able to ascertain whether you would benefit from applying for ARD after DUI in Pennsylvania or working out a plea agreement.

Step Three – Pre-Trial DUI Conference & Motions

During a pre-trial conference, your lawyer will submit motions to strengthen your case and get the charges dismissed and stripped off your record. For instance, your lawyer may ask the judge to exclude specific evidence, test results, or statements because they were obtained unlawfully.

Suppression motions, habeas corpus motions, and other forms of pre-trial action are some of the motions that could be filed at the pre-trial stage. A suppression motion, for instance, can be made to have evidence excluded from the trial if it was obtained without following the correct legal channels or having sufficient justification.

Step Four – DUI Trial

During the fourth stage, the Pennsylvania DUI trial, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a DUI occurred and that you, the defendant, were the one who committed the crime. During the trial, it will be decided whether or not you are guilty.

The seriousness of your DUI charge will determine the need for a trial, its format, and, in particular, whether a jury will be used. Second-offense DUI cases may or may not go to trial with a jury, although first-offense DUI in PA cases usually do not. On the other hand, a jury trial is generally granted for all DUIs that are third offenses. In Pennsylvania, the outcome of a DUI trial frequently depends on your lawyer’s skill and persuasive legal techniques, like expert testimony and expert cross-examination of witnesses.

Step Five – DUI Sentencing & Appeals

A DUI sentencing hearing is the next phase, where the offender has either entered into an ARD program, pled guilty, or been found guilty at trial. The judge will decide your sentence, considering the arguments and supporting documentation put forth by the prosecution and defense.

Pennsylvania DUI laws are strict, so driving under the influence is a serious violation with potentially severe repercussions. In July 2022, Pennsylvania passed Deana’s Law, which made the consequences much more dire.

Depending on the specifics of the case, DUI penalties in PA might include:

If legal errors occur in your DUI case, you may submit an appeal notice to challenge the court decision. When examining your case, you should remember that the Appellate Court will only consider arguments related to alleged legal or procedural errors—not factual errors.

DUI Defense Strategies for Court

Here are commonly used options and strategies when defending a DUI charge.

DUI Plea Agreements & Negotiations

By having a Pittsburgh DUI lawyer at the preliminary hearing, you may be able to resolve your case without going to trial. One good option could be a beneficial plea deal. A prosecutor’s first offer is rarely their last, and experienced attorneys know how to negotiate the best plea deal possible for their clients. In some cases, the charges may even get dismissed at the preliminary hearing if your lawyer spots a significant weakness in the prosecutor’s case.

ARD in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania ARD program helps first-time offenders facing non-victim DUI accusations get their charges dropped or downgraded to a less serious offense. You can participate in a two-year therapy and community service program if you plead guilty and are a first-time offender who hasn’t caused any injury. If you successfully finish the program, your criminal record will be cleared of your DUI conviction. Ask your lawyer for Pennsylvania DUI first-time offender advice because the requirements for ARD differ from one county to the next.

Taking DUI Cases to Trial

With the help of a Pittsburgh DUI lawyer, knowing when to take your case to trial could make the difference between facing a harsher sentence and getting your penalties reduced—or even dismissed.

Here are some circumstances where you might consider:

  • If the evidence was falsely obtained or your rights were violated.
  • If your blood alcohol concentration is within the safe limit.
  • If you have prior DUI charges or you’re a first-time offender.

Frequently Asked Questions About DUI Court

Can I Drive After Being Arrested for a DUI in Pennsylvania?

Your driving privileges may be immediately affected after a DUI arrest in Pennsylvania, especially if you refused a chemical test. Depending on your case’s specifics and BAC level, you may be eligible for a temporary license or an ignition interlock limited license. Your attorney can help you apply for these exceptions.

Could I Go to Jail for a DUI?

It’s a possibility. Pennsylvania laws have zero tolerance for DUI. Drivers found to have a blood alcohol content of more than 0.1% may face a 2-day to 60-month sentence for DUI.

Penalties for a first-time DUI offense in Pennsylvania vary based on your BAC level. They can range from probation, fines, and mandatory attendance at alcohol highway safety school to license suspension and even jail time for higher BAC levels. The state uses a tiered approach to sentencing that considers your BAC and whether you’ve refused a chemical test.

Does a DUI Become Part of My Permanent Record?

Yes. The conviction will always be marked on your criminal record if you are found guilty of DUI in Pennsylvania. Numerous databases maintained by state, county, and federal agencies and the National Driver Registry have information regarding DUI convictions.

What if I’m from Another State but Got a DUI in Pennsylvania?

If you’re from another state but are arrested for a DUI in Pennsylvania, you’ll still need to follow Pennsylvania’s legal process and face penalties there. Additionally, Pennsylvania will likely report the offense to your home state, which could impose its own penalties, affecting your driving privileges in both states.

Why Choose Worgul, Sarna & Ness

Our DUI defense lawyers have defended clients in court and out-of-court resolutions for over 25 years. We will take you through the Pennsylvania legal system and help you understand your legal options so you can make the best decision.  If you choose a trial, we will fight for you and never persuade you to settle or accept a plea bargain. Our priority is for you to have the best outcome for your case.

Here are a few testimonials from our satisfied clients. Also, check out our case results.

Free DUI Case Evaluations – Call Today

Going to court for a DUI in Pennsylvania is serious, from arraignment to when your case is resolved. How you navigate DUI court and the procedures is crucial to the penalties you see and the lasting damage a DUI charge has on your life. This is why you should work with the best DUI defense lawyer possible.

At Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC, we have the skill, experience, and dedication to ensure you have the best possible outcome.  So, if you’re facing DUI charges in PA, contact our DUI lawyers at  412-281-2146 for a free consultation or use our online contact form. We’ll explain your options and what comes next.