THE COURT PROCESS
Facing a criminal charge can be daunting, especially if you are unfamiliar with the criminal justice process. If you are charged with OUI, it is important to understand what to expect at each step. This can be an overwhelming and emotional process, but the attorneys at the Law Offices of Joseph D. Bernard will be by your side every step of the way to guide you. We care about our clients and understand that you may have many questions about what to expect. We are here for you not only as lawyers who will fiercely defend you in court but as counselors who will give you advice and guidance that is based on you and your goals.
After an Arrest
If you have been arrested for OUI, you may not know what to expect upon release from custody. When the booking process is complete, you will have a bail hearing with the bail magistrate. Once bail is posted, you will be released. Police will then return all personal items that were taken from you, such as your wallet and cell phone, with the exception of any illegal contraband. Your license will most likely be suspended for either failing a breath test or refusing the breath test, so you will need to arrange for alternative transportation home.
When you are arrested and taken into custody, your vehicle will most likely be towed from the scene and impounded. Upon your release, the police will advise which towing company has possession of your vehicle. Again, your license will most likely be suspended, so ensure that you have someone with you who can help you retrieve your vehicle when you go to pick it up from the towing company.
If your license was suspended, you will need to take action in order to be reinstated when your mandatory suspension is up. The mandatory suspension length varies depending on whether you failed a breath test or you refused. In order to be reinstated, you must request a hearing at the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) in order to remove the suspension. You will also be required to pay a reinstatement fee before your right to operate becomes active again. You can find a local RMV that holds hearings on the RMV website. Remember, you can have your license reinstated even if your case is still pending in court.
What if You Weren’t Arrested?
If you were not placed under arrest for OUI, it is most likely due to the involvement of a motor vehicle accident or other medical emergency that resulted in a trip to the hospital. In these situations, law enforcement will issue a citation to inform you that you may face criminal charges and that the officer will be petitioning the court to criminally charge you through an application for criminal complaint. In this case, you have the right to request a Magistrate’s Hearing requiring that the officer demonstrate that they had probable cause to believe that you operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If the officer does not show probable cause, you will not be charged with OUI. If probable cause is found, or if you do not request this hearing, you will receive a summons to appear in court to address the OUI charge.
What Happens Next?
Appearing in Court
Whether you were arrested or you received a citation for OUI, you will be required to appear in court. If you were arrested, you are generally required to appear in court the following morning. If you received a citation and summons, your court court date may not be for a few weeks.
What Should You Wear?
For court appearances related to your OUI charge, it is important that you put your best face forward. How you appear for court can say a lot about you and your appreciation for the seriousness of your charges. You should show up to court well-groomed and dressed appropriately. Generally, a business-casual look is usually appropriate, though if you prefer to wear a suit you may. Your attorney will discuss attire with you prior to your court date or trial to make sure you make the best presentation to the judge.
Can You Bring Your Cell Phone?
There are general rules for use of cell phones and other electronic devices in the courthouse. Specific rules regarding cell phones and their use may vary depending on the jurisdiction. For example, some courthouses prohibit the general public from even bringing a cell phone, such as Holyoke District Court. Be sure to verify your specific court’s policy prior to appearing at the courthouse.
Locations that permit you to carry your cell phone still limit usage. When passing through security, you will be advised to shut off or silence your cell phone and to stow it before entering the courtroom. Cell phones may be used in public areas outside the courtroom as long as it is not distracting or disruptive to proceedings or to others. Accessory devices such as bluetooth earpieces are not permitted, with the exception of persons with disabilities that require the use of such devices. Photographs are prohibited throughout the courthouse without the prior approval, and this is typically only granted for special occasions, not for court appearances related to OUI charges.
What to Expect During the Court Process
There are many different types of hearings throughout the court process. Every criminal case begins with an arraignment where you and your lawyer will enter a plea of not guilty. After an arraignment, there are different types of court dates that your lawyer can schedule, from a pre-trial conference, to a discovery compliance date, to a motion hearing, to trial, all of which are explained in detail below.
The first time you appear in court is for an arraignment. Initially, you will check-in with the Probation Department. They will gather general information from you and use this to pull your criminal history. You will then wait in the courtroom for your name to be called. If you have an attorney at this point, your attorney will file an appearance in your case. Once your name is called, you will hear the charges against you and enter a plea. Your attorney will most likely advise you to enter a plea of not guilty at the arraignment. There are many reasons not to plead otherwise at this time, or to even enter into negotiations for a plea agreement. After your experience with the police, your emotions may be running high. There will be discovery that is important for you to review before making a plea decision, such as a police report and booking video, if available. Additionally, if there was an accident involved, entering a guilty plea at the arraignment could have implications for your civil liability.
After you are arraigned, you will be given a new date to return to court for a pre-trial conference. If you are facing a subsequent offense, such as a repeat offense close in time to the prior offense, you may have additional conditions of pretrial release imposed. In that case, you will check-in again with probation and agree to the terms and conditions. You are then free to leave.
Your next court date will be a pre-trial conference. Several things can occur during a pre-trial conference. Your lawyer will have the opportunity to conference with the prosecutor and negotiate any potential plea agreement. This may lead to entering a disposition at this hearing or at a court date in the future. You and your attorney will also be able to request additional discovery, or request that the court require discovery be provided if the prosecutor has failed to turn over important pieces of evidence in your case. Finally, you will have the chance to schedule any special court dates, such as a motion hearing, discovery compliance dates, or trial.
In between your arraignment and your pre-trial conference, your attorney will obtain discovery. Discovery is simply a term referring to the production of evidence from the prosecutor. The prosecution has evidence that it plans to use against you to prove the criminal charges, and you have the right to see that evidence. Examples of evidence obtained in OUI discovery include booking videos, cruiser videos, 911 calls, police reports, photos, any statements you may have made during the stop or booking, breath or blood test results, and a list of witnesses the prosecution plans to use at trial. If you are facing a subsequent offense, the prosecutor is also required to provide evidence of your prior OUI convictions. Your attorney may also file motions for discovery from the prosecution that is not typically provided unless requested, such as policies and protocols of the police department. Once discovery is received, your attorney will discuss the evidence with you, permit you to watch any videos that are turned over, and advise you of the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
After discovery has been received, your attorney will be able to file other pre-trial motions. The purpose of filing motions is generally to exclude potentially harmful evidence or to dismiss the case depending on the evidence. Pre-trial motions are important because excluding harmful evidence increases the likelihood of pre-trial dismissal or a better plea offer from the prosecution. For example, your attorney could move to suppress any potentially incriminating statements you may have made, or exclude breath or blood test results. Your attorney could also move to dismiss your case if the police failed to follow particular requirements under the law. There will generally be a hearing on the motion that your attorney files, where your attorney will possibly cross-examine the police officer and make arguments to the judge. No jury is present for motion hearings. It will just be you, your attorney, the prosecutor, the judge, and any possible witnesses, including the arresting officer. The judge will usually take the motion under advisement and later inform the parties in writing whether they have allowed or denied the motion. It is a rare instance for a judge to make a decision on a complex motion on the day of the motion hearing.
Trial and Trial Readiness
If you decide to take your case to trial after discussing all of your potential defenses with your attorney, your attorney will schedule your matter in court for a trial date along with a trial readiness date prior to your trial date. Trial readiness is important because it informs the court whether the parties are truly ready to take the case to trial. A trial readiness hearing usually occurs a couple of weeks before the trial date and sets the stage for the trial itself. At the time of the trial readiness hearing, all evidence has been turned over and discovery is complete. Each side now has a fair expectation about what evidence will be presented at trial and what will not be presented at trial. Your attorney will tell the judge that the defense is ready for trial. Sometimes, motions will be heard in preparation for trial, and the court may go over proposed questions for jury selection. Other times, these motions and proposed questions will be heard on the day of trial.
If your case proceeds to trial, the first step will be to seat a jury of six. Both your attorney and the prosecutor will have the opportunity to question potential jurors. This process is called voir dire. The goal is to select the best possible jurors—those who can be fair and impartial, and those who are likely to side with you.
After jury selection, the trial will begin with opening statements from both the prosecution and the defense. After opening statements, the prosecution presents its case first. It will lay out its case against you by introducing evidence. The prosecution goes first because it bears the burden to prove the charge of OUI beyond a reasonable doubt. Most evidence will come in the form of testimony from witnesses. The prosecution will most likely call the arresting officer to testify to the events leading to your arrest and their observations regarding your alleged impairment. Other witnesses may also include bystanders or any individuals who were present when the stop or arrest occurred, or those who may have witnessed an accident, if one was involved. Your attorney will also have the opportunity to cross examine the prosecution’s witnesses in order to challenge the testimony they have given. Once the prosecution has presented its case, you will be able to present any defenses, call your own witnesses, and present any evidence that helps show your innocence. Once both sides have presented their cases, closing statements will be made and the jury will be given instructions by the judge. The jury will then go into deliberations. When a verdict is reached, the jury will re-enter the courtroom and the verdict will be read out loud.
If you are found not guilty, the case is closed and you are free to go. If you are found guilty, the next step is sentencing. For a first offense, it is likely that you will be sentenced immediately. If this a second or subsequent offense, a determination must be made as to whether or not the government can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are in fact a subsequent offender. This could result in what is really a second trial, where the prosecutor still bears the burden to prove the level of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Most often the judge (but sometimes the jury) could make the determination, or you may stipulate as to the level of the offense. Once a determination is made, sentencing will occur, most likely the same day as the trial.
EXPERIENCED LAWYERS TO HELP YOU NAVIGATE THE COURT PROCESS
The Massachusetts DUI lawyers at The Law Offices of Joseph D. Bernard P.C. are here to guide you smoothly through the complexities of the court process. We are committed to being by your side every step of the way and to fiercely defend you against your pending DUI charge. Put our experience and our dedication to DUI defense to work for you.
Contact The Law Offices of Joseph D. Bernard P.C. for a free case consultation!