As soon as you or a family member are arrested for driving under the influence, the case will begin its path through the criminal justice system.
The process of being arraigned and attending hearings can be stressful and confusing. An experienced Pittsburgh DUI attorney can help you understand the proceedings and make good decisions as you move through each different step.
If you’ve been charged with a DUI, you will need to understand the court process first. A preliminary hearing is the first step and a criminal defense attorney should be by your side. After this, you may go to a formal arraignment and a pre-trial conference. Finally, a trial or plea will take place. An experienced DUI lawyer at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC can answer any questions that you may have and lead you through the process.
Components of the DUI Court Process
Your case will make its way from a preliminary hearing to a formal arraignment to a pretrial conference and even a trial, depending on the circumstances of your case and the choices you make.
In Allegheny County, the first time you appear in court on your DUI case will be at your preliminary hearing, which will usually take place within three to 10 days of your arrest. Your hearing will be held in the Pittsburgh Municipal Court building, located at 660 First Avenue, or in the Magisterial District Court office specified on your criminal complaint.
Your preliminary hearing will be the most important hearing on your case. At the hearing, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has to prove a prima facie case, which means that prosecutors must prove that a DUI crime was committed and probably you were the one who committed it.
Your Pittsburgh DUI attorney will attend the hearing with you, and they will try to get some or all of the DUI charges against you dismissed.
However, if prosecutors are able to meet their burden of proof and the magistrate agrees there was probable cause, your case will be sent to the Court of Common Pleas for your arraignment.
Formal Arraignment and ARD
At your arraignment, the charges against you will be you formally entered. At this stage, you and your Pittsburgh DUI attorney will be shown the police reports on your arrest and and video footage from the stop. At this point you will also be assigned a judge.
In Allegheny County, your formal arraignment will usually be held six to eight weeks after your preliminary hearing. It will take place on the fifth floor of the Allegheny County Courthouse, 436 Grant Street.
Around the time of your arraignment, if you qualify for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD), and you would like to pursue the option of this diversionary program, your DUI lawyer can help you with the application process.
The pre-trial conference is the next step in the DUI court process. In Allegheny County, your pre-trial conference is a time when issues can be resolved prior to a trial.
At this stage, your DUI attorney will have an opportunity to make requests for discovery. This means they will be able to obtain information held by prosecutors and the police, including lab reports.
If it is in your best interests due to the circumstances of you case, and you choose to do so, your attorney can use the pre-trial conference to negotiate a plea bargain for you with the prosecutor.
If your DUI case isn’t resolved through a plea deal or by your acceptance into ARD, your case will be scheduled to go to trial.
The trial will decide if you are not guilty or guilty of the DUI with which you were charged. If, after your verdict is delivered, you are found guilty, then you will be sentenced by the judge.
You can appeal the court’s rulings by filing a notice of appeal. However, one thing to know in reviewing your case is that the Appellate Court will only consider issues that claim errors of the law or of the trial proceedings, not facts. Your defense attorney can walk you through this if this is an option.
What Pennsylvania Law Says About DUI
In Pennsylvania it is illegal to:
- drive after imbibing a sufficient amount of alcohol such that you are incapable of safely driving, operating or being in actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle, or
- drive a vehicle after imbibing a sufficient amount of alcohol such that the alcohol concentration in your blood or breath is at least .08 within two hours after you have driven, or
- drive a vehicle with any amount of a Schedule I, II, or III controlled substance in your blood.