After a DUI arrest, the arresting police officer gives you a summons and releases you. They will call a person capable of driving to pick you up. The summons contains the criminal charges alleged against you. It also contains the date and time of the first court appearance. The summons is incredibly important. This is because the appearances in court are mandatory. If a court appearance is skipped, you could be charged with the crime of “failure to appear.” This charge can be a felony.
Some people will have a monetary bond placed on them. They will be held in custody until it is paid. Once released on a bond, the court may add conditions to the release. These could potentially include travel restrictions. You cannot violate the conditions of your release of your bond. If you do so, you could face more criminal charges.
The arresting police department will also file the charges with the clerk’s office at the Superior Court in which your case will be heard. The clerk’s office will create and open up a file for your case. They will assign what is referred to as a “docket number.” The court that will handle your appearance will be a Superior Court. The basic timeline for a DUI case can vary. Some take just a few weeks, while a few complicated cases may drag out for over a year. Various factors affect the length of this timeline, including whether the case goes to trial.
Initially, your case will appear on the docket. The docket is a calendar or list of cases for trial. The “regular” docket is the one in which all new cases are assigned. Your case will likely be maintained on this regular docket for the first few appearances. It may be resolved on this docket. During your court appearances, the State’s Attorney and your lawyer will discuss the merits of both the state’s case and your defenses. But, these discussions are conducted in private. The main reason for this practice is that any information, when discussed in private, cannot be used in the prosecution of the case. If these discussions were to be conducted in open court, there would be witnesses who could testify about the case.
If the discussions with the prosecutor and your attorney don’t yield a satisfactory disposition, the matter will be set down for judicial pretrial. Most courts have a judge who controls the criminal docket. This judge is known as the presiding judge. The judge will sit as the final arbiter of the matter before it is determined that the case cannot be resolved without a trial. After a judicial pretrial, the court will make an offer to resolve the case. Both sides often propose different disposition possibilities. The judge listens to both sides to see what is a reasonable disposition given the legal and factual claims made.
If the State’s Attorney, your attorney and you agree to a satisfactory disposition of the case, you may be required to do certain things. Paying a fine, completing alcohol counseling or complying with probation are all possible conditions. If you plead guilty to a crime, the judge is required to ask you a series of questions. This will determine if you are knowingly and voluntarily pleading to the charges.
How to Plead
There are three ways to plead or be found guilty. The first way is what is referred to as a “straight” guilty plea. A straight plea means you agree with the allegations. The state claims you committed a crime and you agree that you are guilty. The second way to plead guilty is a guilty plea under the Alford Doctrine. The Alford Doctrine means that you don’t agree with some or all of the facts that the state claims happened. However, in light of what you know about the state’s proof, you would like to plead guilty and accept a definite disposition rather than risk going to trial and losing.
The third and final way to plea guilty is to plea “nolo contendere”, which is Latin for “no contest”. This means that you are not contesting the charges nor are you putting up any defenses to the charges. The judge, after hearing the charges, will find you guilty and sentence you. A nolo contendere plea is often used by defendants in situations where they could be sued in civil court. An example is a car accident. A nolo contendere plea cannot be used against a defendant in civil court the way a guilty plea can.
Going to Trial
If a case simply cannot be resolved without a trial, both attorneys are then given an opportunity to file motions. Motions are simply requests that are made of the court to grant some type of relief. The relief often requested by defense attorneys is that some part of the state’s evidence be excluded from trial when the case goes to trial. Attorneys may seek to exclude a breath testing device, a blood test, field sobriety tests, or a statement made by the defendant.
In addition, your attorney might make a motion for the prosecutor to send them “discovery” in your case. Discovery is a general legal term that relates to production of evidence that the state intends to present against you in court. An example of discovery would be the list of the state’s witnesses against you, plus any information on how to locate them. Obtaining discovery allows your attorney to be as fully prepared as possible when entering the court so that there won’t be any surprises. One of the key aspects of discovery may be a videotape of your arrest, either at the scene, in the station or both.
Most State’s Attorneys in Connecticut follow a policy of having open files from the beginning of the case, which allows the defense attorney to view the police report and other evidence in the file. Some only allow a copy of the police report, and others only allow notes to be taken.
The elimination of harmful evidence is the primary purpose and goal of motions. There is not a jury present at the motions hearing, but other people present include the judge, your attorney, the prosecutor, and the state’s witness (the police officer who arrested you). The judge will hear each side’s arguments, then either grant or deny the motions. However, most judges refuse to hear motions until the day of the trial.
In the timeline of case, a trial follows the motions hearings. The trial can be either a jury trial (a six person jury commonly used in misdemeanor cases) or a bench trial, which is heard only by a judge. If your case is set down for a trial, you and your attorney will be summoned to begin jury selection, or what is referred in legal terms as voir dire, French for “to speak the truth.” The constitution of the state of Connecticut allows for a defense attorney to question each potential juror independently about their knowledge of the case, the witnesses, and their general outlook on life.
During this phase, both the state and your defense attorney are trying to find the best possible candidates who are sympathetic to their side. The prosecutor is looking for candidates who will vote guilty and convict you of the charges, while the defense attorney is trying to find candidates who will vote not guilty.
In Connecticut, there are no long opening statements like the ones seen in television and movie courtroom scenes. If fact, there won’t be any opening statements in your case unless the judge has approved them beforehand. The prosecutor will call the first witness for the state, which often is the police officer that arrested you. After the state has asked questions of the first witness, your lawyer will be allowed to cross examine the witness and this process will continue until the state has no more witnesses to call.
According to both federal and state constitutions, the defense doesn’t have any burden whatsoever to introduce any evidence. If the defense chooses not to introduce evidence, both sides then make their closing arguments.