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DUI Legal Process in Ohio

The first step in the DUI process occurs when an officer pulls over your car under reasonable suspicion that you are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He will observe your body language and smell your clothes and your breath. If he believes it is likely you are intoxicated he will ask you to step out of the car and perform some combination of field sobriety tests which you are free to refuse to comply with if you wish. If you fail two or more field sobriety tests, the officer will likely arrest you and transport you back to the police station. At the police station, they will ask you to submit to a chemical BAC test (blood, breath, or urine). At any time, you can and should ask for an attorney to be present before you are questioned. If you are arrested you could be placed in jail and have to post bail in order to be released. However, you could also be released without needing to pay bail.

The next step in the DUI process is the arraignment. Arraignment is your initial appearance before a judge. This is the judge will read the charges against you and when you will be instructed to tell the court whether you are pleading “guilty” or “not guilty”. While most people want to tell the judge their whole story about how the incident was not their fault, the police were wrong, etc., this is not the appropriate time. All the judge wants to hear is your plea. You will have a chance to argue your case at the trial. Most DUI offenders end up pleading “not guilty”. This is most likely how you will plead unless your lawyer decides it is in your best interest not to. The arraignment is when you may apply for a court appointed counsel if you are unable to afford your own. After you enter your plea, the judge might end up lowering your bail or releasing you on your own recognizance. After arraignment the prosecutor will give your lawyer copies of all the evidence they will be using against you.

Preliminary hearings are held to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to possibly convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt of your guilt. If there is not enough evidence for the jury to possibly conclude that you were driving under the influence then the judge will throw out the case. The judge makes the ultimate decision of whether or not your case will go to trial. The preliminary hearing is the first opportunity that your lawyer will have to size up the strength of the prosecution’s case as well as measure the weaknesses in your own case. If the judge decides the evidence presented by the prosecution is enough to convince a possible jury of your guilt then your case will go to trial.

Before trial, your lawyer will have the chance to submit any pre-trial motion he or she thinks would benefit your defense. Pre-trial motions can include: suppression of the field sobriety tests, chemical BAC tests or any other evidence and contestation of whether or not the police had probable cause to stop your vehicle or arrest you. Your lawyer will likely try to have any incriminating evidence thrown out such as your BAC results or any statements you made to the law enforcement officers. Your lawyer might also be able to reduce your charges from an OVI or “operating a vehicle impaired” to a physical control violation. This is most common if you were found drunk in your parked car with the keys somewhere on you or close by. However, since Ohio is attempting to be strict with driving under the influence, it is also possible you will not be offered a charge reduction and will have to go to court on the OVI charge.

If your case is still ongoing after the preliminary hearing then it will proceed to trial. You can choose whether you want your case heard by jury or a judge. In most cases, lawyers recommend that a jury hear your case. This is because it is more difficult for twelve people to agree on guilt beyond a reasonable doubt than one. If your case is going to trial there is much to do before the court date including collecting any evidence that can bolster your case, taking statements (called “depositions”) of any witnesses of the time of the incident, and understanding the evidence and statements that the prosecution is going to use to implicate you. If you know what the prosecution is going to use against you, you can develop an argument to counter that evidence. Before the trial your lawyer and the prosecutor will choose a jury to hear your case (if you do not waive your right to a jury trial). During this jury selection process, your lawyer will ask the jurors questions to make sure that none of them will biased against you before hearing the details of the case. An impartial jury is not only highly desirable but also necessary for the outcome of your case to be fair. Obviously if a juror’s daughter was killed by a drunk driver, you do not want him or her deciding your fate. He will probably not be sympathetic to your situation and will probably find it difficult to separate your case from his daughter’s death. Should any inappropriate jurors surface then your lawyer can excuse them. If you have been arrested for a misdemeanor, your lawyer can excuse three inappropriate jurors. If you have been arrested for a felony, your lawyer can excuse four inappropriate jurors. The trial itself will consist of opening statements, calling and cross-examining witnesses, closing statements, deliberation of the jury and the reading of the verdict.

If you are convicted of an OVI or physical control violation, then the judge will sentence you. For a full discussion of the penalties you could face, see above. Likely penalties include fines, license suspension (in addition to the administrative license suspension you could are already facing), installation of an ignition interlock device, mandatory enrollment in an alcohol or drug treatment program, and jail time.

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