The DUI Process

Because the majority of our DUI clients are good, law-abiding citizens who have never had any previous issues with the law, we often find ourselves spending a great deal of time explaining the “DUI process” to our clients. This criminal court process can be cumbersome, bureaucratic, time-consuming and just plain confusing to those who do not understand its inner workings and processes. Because of this process and the administrative process with the Secretary of State, we recommend all people facing DUI charges in Michigan seek consultation and hire a Michigan DUI attorney.

In most cases, the DUI process can be broken down into seven (7) major phases. Not all cases will experience all seven stages. The DUI process is intended to be used as a guide and it is important to understand that each case is different and no fact pattern is the same. You the client (defendant) play the critical role in determining how your case progresses and which stages occur.

Stage 1 – The Arrest Stage

When a police officer suspects a driver has consumed alcohol, that officer has the responsibility to investigate whether the driver has consumed too much alcohol to legally drive. From this point on, everything that is said and done is being evaluated. Additionally, everything the officer requests of the driver is designed to elicit evidence of intoxicated driving. In general, the more the driver cooperates, the more evidence the officer will receive. This investigation typically begins with the question “how much have you had to drink?” seeking an admission from the driver. The officer may ask other questions about where the driver was coming from and where was he/she going. Next the officer will perform speech, eyesight, cognitive (thinking), divided attention, balance and coordination testing also know as Field Sobriety Testing. The most common tests are the Alphabet test, Count Backwards test, HGN (eye tracking) test, One Leg Stand test, and the Heel to Toe test. Typically, the final test is a breath test with the officer’s portable handheld breath testing device called a PBT (preliminary breath test). After performing and evaluating all these tests, along with the officers observations of the operation of the vehicle, the officer must decide if he has enough evidence (probable cause) to make the arrest for suspicion of DUI.

If the arrest is made, the officer will then seek to obtain admissible chemical tests to determine the driver’s blood alcohol level (BAC). The PBT is not admissible in court for evidentiary purposes. The BAC is typically determined by the driver’s breath or blood. Most, if not all, police stations have a BAC Datamaster evidential breath testing device. They will take the driver back the station and attempt to obtain two breath samples for analysis. Otherwise, police may request the driver submit to a blood test in a hospital or clinic to be administered my medical personnel. After the arrest, and not before, if the driver refuses the breath or blood test, the officer will report the refusal to the secretary of state for the imposition of a one year license suspension. After a refusal, the officer can, and will, still seek a search warrant from a magistrate or judge to obtain a blood sample by force, if necessary.

For more information read: What to do after being pulled over fur DUI

Stage 2 – The Implied Consent Hearing

If the driver refused the breath or blood test upon the arresting officer’s request the officer will report the refusal to the secretary of state for a license suspension. before the license suspension is imposed, the driver has the right to request an administrative hearing to determine if the officer’s report of refusal was reasonable and whether a proper DUI arrest was made. This hearing must be requested within 14 days after the arrest.

Stage 3 – Arraignment

The first hearing in court is called an arraignment wherein the accused must be advised of what he is accused of, the maximum possible penalties, his constitutional rights and the opportunity to enter a plea of not guilty. Additionally, a bond will be set by the court which is an amount of money that must be paid to the court to assure the accused’s appearance at future court dates. If the defendant fails to appear, the bond will be forfeit. The court may also set bond conditions that are designed to protect the public and thwart any future criminal behavior if necessary. In many courts, an attorney has the ability to waive the arraignment without an appearance in court and have the case set for a pre-trial conference.

Stage 4 – Pre-Trial Conference

Pre-trial conferences are scheduled court appearances where we will go to court and meet with the prosecuting attorney to discuss the facts of your case, discovery needs and negotiate plea offers. This stage is the “negotiation” stage and the stage in which we ensure that all relevant discovery and case information has been provided to us from the prosecuting attonrey’s office.

Stage 5 – Motions

Motions hearings are the legal arguments made to the judge. This is where the defense attorney and prosecuting attorney argue case law and a variety of different motions. We refer to this as the legal argument stage. This stage comes after motions (written requests to have the court rule on legal issue) have been filed with the court. This is the stage in which those motions are orally argued and the judge makes a determination on what evidence, if any, is going to be suppressed. The judge’s decision is always made in the light most favorable to the prosecution.

Stage 6 – Jury Trial

Unfortunately, most defense attorneys have very little experience in this stage. Jury trial is where your case is presented to a jury of your peers and they make a determination of your guilt. Misdemeanor DUI jury trials consist of six jury members. The process of selecting the jury is called voir dire. Jury trials are usually two days or more.

Stage 7 – Sentencing (if necessary)

If a defendant is convicted of a misdemeanor, felony or civil infraction the court must impose a sentence. The judge will take into consideration all mitigating factors presented by the defense as well as the recommendations of the district attorney and the probation office.