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DUI Legal Process in California

There are four steps in the California driving under the influence process: the arraignment, the pretrial/motion hearing, the trial, and the appeal. The first step is the arraignment. At arraignment, the motorist will be charged with felony/misdemeanor driving under the influence. The motorist will enter a plea—guilty, not guilty, and no contest. The motorist will be given copies of the charging documents and police report. Accordingly, the court will make set a date for trial.

The second step is pretrial/motion hearings. Pretrial hearings are court dates to update the judge on the status of the case. At this stage, the motorist can negotiate with the prosecutor for a plea. At this stage, the motorist can request a motion hearing to exclude evidence. Certain motions include exclusion of evidence for violation of the Fourth Amendment search and seizure, the Fifth Amendment self-incrimination, exclusion for hearsay, and other motions. If the prosecutor offers a plea and the motorist accepts it, the motorist will enter her plea of guilty. The judge will impose a sentence. If this route is taken, the motorist has no right to appeal. If the motorist rejects the plea, the case will be set for a trial date.

The third step is trial. At this point, the motorist can choose whether she would like a bench trial (no jury) or a jury trial. If the motorist chooses a bench trial, the judge shall determine if the prosecutor offered sufficient evidence. If the judge determined that the motorist is guilty of driving under the influence, the judge shall also enter a sentence. If the motorist chooses a jury trial, a grand jury shall be held. The motorist has the right to investigate each potential juror. Once 12 jurors are decided, the trial shall commence. Opening statements shall be given by both the prosecutor and motorist. The prosecutor will then call witnesses and present evidence. The motorist has the right to cross examine the witnesses. The prosecution will then rest. The motorist will then present witnesses for her case. The prosecutor is allowed to cross examine the motorist’s witnesses. The motorist will then rest. Both the prosecutor and motorist will give closing statements. The jurors will then deliberate. The jurors must determine if the prosecutor proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the motorist was driving under the influence. The jurors must all agree on a verdict; guilty or not guilty. Once reached, the jury will announce their verdict. If not guilty, the motorist is free to go. If guilty, the judge shall impose a sentence.

The fourth step is appeal. After being convicted, the motorist has the right to appeal a conviction. The motorist is to write a brief and submit it to the appeals court. The motorist must show why the trial court was wrong; such as insufficient evidence for a conviction and allowing evidence to enter violating the Fourth or Fifth Amendment. Furthermore, the motorist must prove that if this evidence was thrown out, the jurors would have decided the case in the opposite direction. The appeals court shall determine if they will accept the case or not. If not, then the motorist can appeal to the California’s Supreme Court. If the case is taken, a date is set and the motorist will be allowed to argue her case in front of the appellate court. The court can determine to affirm (accept the lower court’s ruling), reverse (believe that the motorist is correct and change guilty to not guilty) or reverse and remand (determine that the trial judge was wrong but allow for a new trial).


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