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DUI Legal Process in New Hampshire

Any time a driver in New Hampshire is arrested for DWI charge, the first step in the process will be arraignment.  This is essentially a first hearing at which the defendant will be read the charges against him and will be asked to enter a plea.  Because arraignment is the first step in a criminal trial, each individual has the right to have legal counsel present to represent the individual.  In the event of a plea of guilty, the plea will be placed in the court record and a sentence will be imposed on the defendant.  In the event that the defendant pleads not guilty, the case will proceed further.

The next step in the process will be a pretrial hearing and possibly a pretrial conference, the main purpose of which is to update the judge on the status of the case.  Certain issues may be raised and dealt with during this part of the case, including problems with scheduling and discovery.  For those who may be unfamiliar, discovery is the part of the trial process in which each side requests and discloses certain material or evidence which may be relevant to the trial.  During a pretrial conference, the defendant and/or his counsel will meet with the prosecutor, and usually this is when plea negotiations will take place.  If the two sides are able to reach a plea agreement, the agreement will be entered into the court record and the case will be over.

Hearings on Pretrial Motions will be the next phase in a DWI prosecution.  Generally the defense will make motions to exclude certain evidence or have the case dismissed.  Most commonly, the defense will make a motion to exclude evidence of chemical tests that were administered to the defendant.  Both sides will present arguments relevant to the admissibility of evidence, and if the motion is granted evidence will later be excluded at trial.  This can and often is one of the most critical steps in DWI litigation.

Finally the case will go to trial.  Unless the charged offense is a repeat offense or aggravated DWI charge, the defendant does not have the right to a jury trial.  A bench trial will be held.  The difference between a jury and bench trial is that at a bench trial the judge will make findings or law and fact as well as return a verdict.  In a jury trial, the jury is instructed by the judge and makes findings as to issues of fact and then returns a verdict.  Upon a guilty verdict, the case will proceed to sentencing, which may take place at a separate hearing.

The last step in a DWI case is the appeals process.  In order to appeal a guilty verdict, the defendant or his counsel must make a written request to a higher court.  Some attorneys may specialize in trials while others may specialize in appeals.  However, generally one attorney will be able to handle both the trial and appeal.


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