DUI Legal Process in Minnesota
After a DWI arrest, most suspects are released on their own recognizance with promise for a court appearance. DWI defendants who are unable to post bond (if required) and who are not eligible for release may be held in custody until the time of their arraignment. Aggravating factors and the severity of the charge affect a person’s eligibility for release.
A DWI defendant must request an implied consent hearing within 30 days after the license has been taken away by an officer or within the time set by the Department of Public Safety in a revocation letter to preserve their right to drive. If the defendant is unsuccessful at the hearing, then the intoxication-related license revocation will remain on the defendant’s driving record. It is advised to demand the officer’s presence at the hearing, as important defenses can be developed at the hearing.
If the defendant has been released, then their arraignment date is on their ticket and is usually about 30 to 60 days after the arrest. An arraignment is the first court appearance where the judge will formally read to the defendant the charges filed against them and the defendant will enter a plea. If the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, then the judge will impose a sentence; otherwise, a pre-trial conference will be set. A DWI defendant may not have to appear if their attorney appears on their behalf, as it is the court’s primary duty at an arraignment to inform the defendant of their rights. An attorney can do so outside of court.
About six weeks after arraignment, this hearing is held as an opportunity to update the judge on the progress of the defendant’s case, such as scheduling or discovery issues. The prosecutor may propose an offer of a plea agreement, if accepted then the judge will formally enter the plea on the record. If not, then the case will proceed on to trial.
Any filed defense motions are discussed at pretrial motion hearings. If there is any evidence the defense attorney wishes to suppress, such as chemical test results, then he/she will file a motion to suppress and argue it before the court. A defense attorney may also cross-examine the police officers and witnesses involved, and expert witnesses may provide testimony as well. If a motion to suppress is granted, then the evidence is inadmissible against the defendant at the trial. A prosecutor may offer a plea following a successful motion hearing.
Most cases are usually resolved before reaching trial. If a case proceeds to trial, then it will take place before a panel of six jurors for misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases and 12 jurors for felonies, so the first step to a DWI trial is jury selection. Then both the prosecutor and the defense attorney give opening statements, with the prosecutor, or the state, presenting their case first. The prosecutor has the burden of proving each element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt. After each side has presented evidence, both sides give closing arguments. After the judge instructs the jury, they return to the jury room to deliberate and present a verdict. If the verdict is not guilty, then all charges are dismissed; if guilty, then the case will be set for sentencing. Sentences may include jail time, house arrest, community work service, rehabilitation and/or fines.
Following a guilty charge, the convicted person has a right to timely file an appeal. A failure to file a request for an appeal in the time allotted will be considered a waiver of the right to an appeal.
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