DUI Court Process in Pittsburgh | Our Defense Attorneys Can Help

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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.

DUI Court Process in Pennsylvania

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.

Preliminary Hearing

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 that’s 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 formally entered. At this stage, you and your Pittsburgh DUI attorney will be shown the police reports on your arrest 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.

Pre-Trial Conference

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 your 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.

Pittsburgh DUI Trials

If you refuse to plead guilty, and the prosecutor convinces the judge magistrate that there is enough legitimate evidence against you, your DUI case will proceed to trial. To the surprise of many defendants, there is no right to a jury trial in most Pennsylvania DUI cases. This is because a DUI is classified as a petty offense (despite the severe penalties), and the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions have been interpreted as guaranteeing jury trials only for serious crimes.

So, unless your DUI case is being charged as a felony, such as a DUI vehicular homicide or you have several prior offenses, your case will be heard and decided by a judge. Each side will present evidence, examine witnesses, and attempt to argue from established facts whether there is reasonable doubt that you drove while under the influence. If the judge accepts your defense team’s arguments, you will be acquitted. If not, you will be convicted and sentenced.

What Are the Alternatives to a DUI Trial?

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 almost never 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.

Another alternative to a DUI trial is Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD). If you are a first-time offender who hasn’t caused any injuries, and you plead guilty, you can opt into a two-year program of treatment and community service. If you successfully complete the program, your DUI conviction will be removed from your criminal record. The requirements for ARD vary from county to county, so you should ask your defense lawyer if enrolling in your local program is possible and beneficial to your case.

When Should I Take a DUI 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 taking your DUI case to trial:

The Prosecution’s Evidence is Faulty

If there are obvious holes in a prosecution’s argument, such as faulty evidence or factual inaccuracies, it may make sense to bring your case to trial so that it can be dismissed. Oftentimes, a prosecution relies on subjective measures of intoxication, such as the smell of alcohol on a person’s breath or of inflammation in a person’s eyes. While these signs can be symptoms of alcohol consumption, they are not necessarily directly caused by alcohol. Knowing that there are flaws in a prosecution’s case could propel your case to go to a DUI trial.

Your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Was Less Than .08

Because the legal limit for BAC in Pennsylvania is .08, it is difficult for a prosecution to prove that you were driving under the influence of alcohol if your BAC was under that amount. While BAC isn’t the only measure a prosecutor can use to prove intoxication, it is one of the most commonly used. As such, going to a DUI trial with a BAC recorded at less than .08 could help to call your case into question.

You Don’t Have Any Prior DUI Convictions

While not having a prior DUI conviction isn’t enough, in itself, to rationalize going to trial, it can be a useful factor when considering whether or not to bring your case to a DUI trial. Having a prior conviction, or multiple prior convictions could jeopardize your chances of doing well at trial, as a jury or judge will have knowledge of your criminal record. If you’ve been convicted of a DUI in the past, it may make sense to enter into a plea bargain instead. But if this is your first DUI offense, it may make sense to bring your case to a DUI trial.

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.

Read more about DUI laws in PA here.

Contact a Pittsburgh DUI Lawyer If You’ve Been Charged

At every stage of the criminal justice process, the advocacy of a legal professional can greatly enhance your chances of obtaining a good case outcome. From the moment you are arrested, you can count on Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC to defend your rights. If you are looking for a DUI defense lawyer with experience and determination, call (412) 281-2146 today for a free consultation or use our online contact form.

If you have been charged with a Pittsburgh DUI, you face harsh penalties if convicted – even for a first-time offense. Having an experienced DUI lawyer on your side to navigate the criminal process and ensure the best possible outcome for your case can make a difference between a criminal conviction and moving on with your life.

(412) 281-2146 or advice@pittsburghcriminalattorney.com