A DWI is often an individual’s first run-in with the law, making the process a scary and confusing one. After being arraigned for a DWI or DUI charge, a pretrial is probably going to be the next step.
What is a pretrial hearing and what should an individual expect in this proceeding?
A pretrial hearing is generally the final step before a a trial, and is essentially an appearance to determine if the case against the defendant can be resolved without the necessity of a trial. It can either be used as a settlement conference or an actual litigated contested hearing. If it is a contested pretrial or preliminary hearing, the judge does not yet determine whether the suspect is guilty or not guilty during this proceeding, but instead determines whether the prosecution has gathered enough evidence against the defendant to support a trial. If the defendant’s DWI attorney is able to suppress much of the evidence against his client, the defendant may not have to make it to trial at all.
Prior to the pretrial conference/hearing, the court will generally require the prosecution to provide all discoverable material to the defendant and his or her attorney. This includes any evidence the prosecution intends to offer or have admitted against the defendant at the trial. If the defendant’s attorney determines that there exists a possible contested legal issue that needs to be addressed, then he or she will file pretrial motions with the court and serve on the prosecution. These motions must detail the issues to be raised or litigated at the contested pretrial hearing.
In a way, a contested preliminary hearing can be a preview of what the real trial may be like. The prosecution makes arguments that prove the defendant was indeed driving while under the influence or that the police did not violate the defendant’s constitutional rights during the arrest process, while the defense makes arguments proving otherwise. Witnesses may be called to the stand, and may be cross-examined for questioning on various legal issues generally raised by the defense.
Any evidence such as field sobriety test results and chemical test results may also be introduced to the court. Prosecutors do not generally present their entire case, but instead present just enough evidence to convince the judge that there is probable cause for the defendant to go to trial.
During a preliminary hearing, the judge listens closely to the arguments of both the defendant and the prosecution’s attorney. The prosecution will attempt to convince the judge that there is probable cause to make the accused stand trial before a jury. It is the defense attorney’s role, on the other hand, to expose any weaknesses in the prosecution’s claims and convince the judge or jury that there is no reason to proceed to trial and that the case should be dismissed.
There is usually one of three outcomes in a preliminary hearing: the DWI defendant goes to trial, the case is resolved through plea negotiations, or the judge dismisses the case because of a lack of evidence or some other relevant legal issue that was raised. . The third outcome, however, is more rare.
In any criminal case, including DWI, it’s always best practice to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.