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Criminal Law


The criminal justice process typically begins when a police officer places a person under arrest. (Also see Chronology: The Arrest Process.) An "arrest" occurs when a person has been taken into police custody and is no longer free to leave or move about. The use of physical restraint or handcuffs is not necessary. An arrest can be complete when a police officer simply tells a crime suspect that he or she is "under arrest", and the suspect submits without the officer's use of any physical force. The key to an arrest is the exercise of police authority over a person, and that person's voluntary or involuntary submission.

A police officer may usually arrest a person in the following circumstances:

The Police Officer Personally Observes a Crime
If a police officer personally sees someone commit a crime, the officer may arrest that individual. For example:

  • While on street patrol, a police officer sees a purse snatching take place. The officer can apprehend and arrest the purse-snatcher, based on the officer's personal observation of a theft/larceny or robbery.
  • A police officer pulls over a vehicle that is being driven erratically, and after administering a Breathalyzer test, sees that the driver's alcohol intoxication level is more than twice the state's legal limit for safe operation of a vehicle. The police officer can arrest the driver for DUI/DWI.

The Police Officer Has "Probable Cause" to Arrest
When a police officer has a reasonable belief, based on facts and circumstances, that a person has committed or is about to commit a crime, the officer may arrest that person. This belief, known as "probable cause," may arise from any number of different facts and circumstances. For example:

  • A police officer receives a report of an armed robbery that has just occurred at a liquor store, then sees a man who matches the suspect's exact description running down the street near the store. The officer detains and searches the man, finding a gun and a large amount of cash in his pockets. The officer can arrest the man, based on a probable cause belief that he committed a robbery.

An Arrest Warrant Has Been Issued
When a police officer has obtained a valid warrant to arrest a person, the arrest is lawful. An arrest warrant is a legal document issued by a judge or magistrate, usually after a police officer has submitted a sworn statement that sets out the basis for the arrest. When issued, an arrest warrant typically:

  • Identifies the crime(s) committed;
  • Identifies the individual suspected of committing the crime;
  • Specifies the location(s) where the individual may be found; and
  • Gives a police officer permission to arrest the person(s) identified in the warrant.

Challenging An Unlawful Arrest
At all stages of the criminal process, including arrest, police officers must protect citizens' constitutional rights, such as the right to remain silent and the right to be free from unreasonable searches. If these rights are violated, a court may deem the arrest unlawful and order the case against the arrestee dismissed, or certain evidence may be thrown out of the case.

While a criminal suspect may question the lawfulness of an arrest when it is happening, including the basis for the arrest and the actions of the police officers, that battle is best fought in court rather than on the street.

After arrest, a criminal suspect is usually taken into police custody and "booked," or "processed." During booking, a police officer typically:

  • Takes the criminal suspect's personal information (i.e., name, date of birth, physical characteristics);
  • Records information about the suspect's alleged crime;
  • Performs a record search of the suspect's criminal background;
  • Fingerprints, photographs, and searches the suspect;
  • Confiscates any personal property carried by the suspect (i.e., keys, purse), to be returned upon the suspect's release; and
  • Places the suspect in a police station holding cell or local jail.

(Note: persons arrested for minor offenses may merely be given a written citation and released, after signing the citation and promising to appear in court at a later date.)

For criminal suspects who are placed in jail, the first priority is usually getting out. Except when very serious crimes are charged, a suspect usually can obtain pre-trial release through bail or "own recognizance" release. Getting Out of Jail after You Have Been Arrested

Once you have been arrested and put in jail, there is probably just one thing going through your head -- getting out.

In general, getting out of jail is accomplished by posting "bail." Bail is generally cash or a piece of property that has a cash value that you give to the court in return for your promise to show up to court when you are ordered to do so.

Generally, if you show up to court when you are supposed to after being let out of jail, the court will return your bail. However, if you do not show up, the court will keep your bail and most likely issue an arrest warrant for you, meaning you'll probably end up back in jail.

The Process of Setting Bail
If you have been arrested, you will probably want to know how much your bail will be as soon as possible. If you are required to see a judge before your bail amount is set, you are probably going to spend some time in jail, often a weekend in jail (this is sometimes a tactic used by the police -- they arrest you on Friday, meaning that the earliest you will see a judge to set bail is Monday), and even up to five days. However, if you were arrested for a common type of crime, jails often have a chart that can be used to set standard bail amounts which means getting out is a simple matter of paying the standard amount.

The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution establishes that no person can have an excessive bail amount set against them. This has been held to mean that bail cannot be used as a way for the government to raise money for itself or punish a person for being arrested. The Eight Amendment is there to ensure that bail is not used for a purpose other than to guarantee that an arrested person comes back to court at the appointed time. The bail cannot be more than is reasonable to accomplish that.

Despite the theory behind the Eighth Amendment, judges often use excessively high bail amounts to prohibit an arrested individual from getting out of jail. This type of excessive bail is often used for people that have been arrested on suspicion of dealing drugs, murder or other crimes where flight is a real possibility. Many people have argued that this type of high bail violates the Eighth Amendment, but almost all have been unsuccessful.

There are also situations in which bail is set at a reasonable amount, but the arrestee still cannot afford to pay the bail. When this happens, the arrested individual must wait to ask the judge to lower the bail amount at a special bail hearing or during the defendant's first court appearance. Depending upon your financial situation, the judge may decide to lower your bail amount, which could making getting out of jail easier.

Posting Bail
When you "post bail," you are paying the amount that your bail was set at. This can generally be done in a few ways, including:

  • Paying by cash or check in the amount of your bail;
  • Signing over ownership rights to property that has a cash value that is equal to or exceeds the amount of your bail;
  • Giving a bond (a promise to pay if you do not appear) in the full amount of your bail; or
  • Signing a statement that says you will appear in court at the required time, generally called "being released on your own recognizance."

Generally, if you can be released on your own recognizance, you should try to take that option. However, many people are forced to purchase a bail bond in order to get released from jail. A bond is much like a check that you give to a friend, asking him or her not to cash it until you say it's okay to do so. Generally, the purchase price of the bond is about 10% of the value. Therefore, if your bail is set at $5000, you can expect to pay about $500 in order to purchase a bail bond.

If you have the chance to avoid getting a bail bond in order to get out of jail, it is often good advice to take that second option. If you appear at court and proceed with all requirements thereof, you will generally get the full amount of your bail returned back to you (minus some small, administrative fees from the court). However, if you buy a bail bond, you are already out 10% of your bail amount (this is generally not refundable), and you will also probably have to give the bail bondsman some collateral in order to get the bond (such as an interest in your car or home). If you fail to appear in court at a required time, the bondsman can cash in on the collateral you gave, meaning that he or she could sell your property and take the money from the sale.

Getting Released On Your Own Recognizance
As mentioned above, if you have the option of being released on your own recognizance, or "O.R.", you should jump at this opportunity. In general, in order to be released O.R., you must simply sign a paper promising to show up at court when required.

In order to get released O.R., you will probably have to request this at your first court appearance in front of a judge. If you are denied this request, you can always ask about getting a lower bail amount.

There are certain factors that can lead a judge to release you O.R., many of them having to do with your ties to the community in which you were arrested. Factors that could support your request to be release on your own recognizance include:

  • Having close family members living in the community;
  • Being raised in or living in the community for a number of years;
  • Having a job in the community;
  • Having no criminal history, or a criminal history that only includes small crimes and misdemeanors; and
  • Having a good track record of showing up to court when required in the past.

After the arrest, booking, and initial bail phases of the criminal process, the first stage of courtroom-based proceedings takes place -- arraignment. During a typical arraignment, a person charged with a crime is called before a criminal court judge, who:

  • Reads the criminal charge(s) against the person (now called the "defendant");
  • Asks the defendant if he or she has an attorney, or needs the assistance of a court-appointed attorney;
  • Asks the defendant how he or she answers, or "pleads to", the criminal charges -- "guilty," "not guilty," or "no contest";
  • Decides whether to alter the bail amount or to release the defendant on his or her own recognizance (Note: These matters are usually revisited even if addressed in prior proceedings); and
  • Announces dates of future proceedings in the case, such as the preliminary hearing, pre-trial motions, and trial.

Also at the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor will give the defendant and his or her attorney copies of police reports and any other documents relevant to the case. For example, in a DUI/DWI or drug possession case, the prosecutor may provide the defense with lab reports of any blood or chemical tests that were performed, and may be used in the case.

The Right to Counsel
If a criminal defendant faces the possibility of jail time if convicted for the crime(s) charged, the defendant has a constitutional right to the assistance of an attorney, or "counsel." If the defendant wishes to be represented by an attorney but cannot afford to hire one, a government-appointed attorney will be assigned at no cost to the defendant. Usually employed as "public defenders", these government-appointed defense attorneys are responsible for zealously protecting a criminal defendant's rights at all stages of the criminal process. To learn more about the right to counsel, go here.

Preliminary Hearing
Usually held soon after arraignment, a preliminary hearing is best described as a "trial before the trial" at which the judge decides, not whether the defendant is "guilty" or "not guilty," but whether there is enough evidence to force the defendant to stand trial. In making this determination, the judge uses the "probable cause" legal standard, deciding whether the government has produced enough evidence to convince a reasonable jury that the defendant committed the crime(s) charged.

What to Expect at the Preliminary Hearing
In reaching this probable cause decision, the judge listens to arguments from the government (through a government attorney, or "prosecutor"), and from the defendant (usually through his or her attorney). The prosecutor may call witnesses to testify, and can introduce physical evidence in an effort to convince the judge that the case should go to trial. The defense usually cross-examines the government's witnesses and calls into question any other evidence presented against the defendant, seeking to convince the judge that the prosecutor's case is not strong enough, so that the case against the defendant must be dismissed before trial.

Preliminary Hearing -- Not in Every Case
A preliminary hearing may not be held in every criminal case in which a "not guilty" plea is entered. Some states conduct preliminary hearings only when a felony is charged, and other states utilize a "grand jury indictment" process in which a designated group of citizens decides whether, based on the government's evidence, the case should proceed to trial. Last but not least, the possibility always exists that any time prior to the preliminary hearing a criminal case will be resolved through a plea bargain between the government and the defendant.

Plea Bargains
Many criminal cases are resolved through a "plea bargain", usually well before trial. In a plea bargain, the defendant agrees to plead guilty to one or more charges (often to a lesser charge than one for which the defendant could stand trial) in exchange for a more lenient sentence (and/or so that certain related charges are dismissed). Click on the links below for in-depth information on plea bargains.

Pre-Trial Motions
After the preliminary hearing and before a criminal case goes to trial, the prosecutor and the defense team usually appear before a criminal court judge and make pre-trial motions -- arguments that certain evidence should be kept out of the trial, that certain persons must or cannot testify, or that the case should be dismissed altogether.

Pre-trial motions are tools used by the government and the defense in an effort to set the boundaries for trial, should one take place: What physical evidence and testimony can be used? What legal arguments can and cannot be made? Is there any reason that the defendant should not be forced to stand trial?

What Arguments are Made During Pre-Trial Motions?
While specific possibilities are endless, following are some examples of pre-trial motions that might be made in a criminal case:

  • In a drug possession case, the defense asks the judge to "exclude," or keep out of the case, drug paraphernalia that the defense argues was obtained through an illegal search of the defendant's apartment.
  • The defense argues that the defendant's confession should be excluded, because it was made in response to questions from a police officer who failed to first read the defendant his Miranda rights.
  • The prosecutor argues that one of the defendant's key witnesses, an elderly neighbor with Alzheimer's disease, is not legally competent to testify and should be excluded as a witness at trial.
  • The defense asks the judge to dismiss the case against the defendant altogether, arguing that the police did not have "probable cause" to arrest the defendant in the first place, or that insufficient evidence exists for any reasonable jury to find the defendant guilty.

Criminal Trial
After a criminal defendant is formally charged with a crime (and in the absence of a guilty plea), the case proceeds to the trial phase. The law firm of Christopher K Monelt can help explain to you criminal procedure, what happens at trial and defendants' rights relating to trials, including the right to counsel, the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, the right to a speedy jury trial and more.

Defendants' Rights:
  • Right to Counsel - Articles and resources pertaining to a criminal defendant's constitutional right to representation by an attorney.
  • Fifth Amendment Right Against Self-Incrimination - Overview of a criminal defendant's constitutional right against self-incrimination, commonly called "pleading the Fifth."
  • Right to a Speedy Jury Trial - Explanation of a criminal defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a reasonably quick trial by an impartial jury.
  • "Double Jeopardy" Protections - Explanation of a criminal defendant's constitutional protection against being tried more than once for the same offense (with some exceptions).
  • The Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause - Overview of a criminal defendant's right to cross-examine witnesses and directly face witnesses who provide testimony at trial.

In a criminal trial, a jury examines the evidence to decide whether, "beyond a reasonable doubt," the defendant committed the crime in question. A trial is the government's opportunity to argue its case, in the hope of obtaining a "guilty" verdict and a conviction of the defendant. A trial also represents the defense's chance to refute the government's evidence, and to offer its own in some cases. After both sides have presented their arguments, the jury considers as a group whether to find the defendant guilty or not guilty of the crime(s) charged.

(Note: Although a trial is the most high-profile phase of the criminal justice process, the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved well before trial -- through guilty or no contest pleas, plea bargains, or dismissal of charges.)

A complete criminal trial typically consists of six main phases, each of which is described in more detail below:

  • Choosing a Jury
  • Opening Statements
  • Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination
  • Closing Arguments
  • Jury Instruction
  • Jury Deliberation and Verdict

Choosing a Jury
Except for rare cases that are heard only by a judge, one of the first steps in any criminal trial is selection of a jury. During jury selection, the judge (and usually the plaintiff and the defendant through their respective attorneys) will question a pool of potential jurors generally and as to matters pertaining to the particular case -- including personal ideological predispositions or life experiences that may pertain to the case. The judge can excuse potential jurors at this stage, based on their responses to questioning.

Also at this stage, both the defense and the prosecution may exclude a certain number of jurors, through use of "peremptory challenges" and challenges "for cause." A peremptory challenge can be used to exclude a juror for any non-discriminatory reason, and a challenge for cause can be used to exclude a juror who has shown that he or she cannot be truly objective in deciding the case:

  • After Juror "A" answers "yes" when asked whether she feels that "street" drugs should be legalized, the prosecution can most likely exclude her for cause from the pool of jurors in a drug possession case, as she has indicated a bias against drug laws.
  • The defense can use a peremptory challenge to exclude Juror "B" from the jury pool in a case where a police officer was an assault victim, after it is learned that the juror has two brothers who are police officers. Even if Juror "B" adamantly states that she can remain objective in her assessment of the case, the defense may excuse her without declaring any grounds for doing so.

Opening Statements
Once a jury is selected, the first "dialogue" at trial comes in the form of two opening statements -- one from the prosecutor on behalf of the government, and the other from the defense. No witnesses testify at this stage, and no physical evidence is ordinarily utilized.

Because the government has the "burden of proof" as to the defendant's guilt, the prosecutor's opening statement is given first and is often more detailed than that of the defense. In some cases, the defense may wait until the conclusion of the government's main case before making its opening statement. Regardless of when opening statements are made, during those statements:

  • The prosecutor presents the facts of the case, from the government's perspective, and walks the jury through what the government will try to prove -- what the defendant did, how, and why.
  • The defense gives the jury its own interpretation of the facts, and sets the stage for rebutting key government evidence and presenting any legal defenses to the crime(s) charged.

Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination
At the heart of any criminal trial is what is often called the "case-in-chief," the stage at which each side presents its key evidence to the jury.

In its case-in-chief, the government methodically sets forth evidence in an attempt to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. It is at this point that the prosecutor calls eyewitnesses and experts to testify. The prosecutor may also introduce physical evidence, such as photographs, documents, and medical reports.

Whether a witness is called by the government or the defense, the witness testimony process usually adheres to the following timeline:

  • The witness is called to the stand and is "sworn in," taking an oath to tell the truth.
  • The party who called the witness to the stand questions the witness through "direct" examination, eliciting information from the witness through question-and-answer, to strengthen the party's position in the case.
  • After direct examination, the opposing party has an opportunity to question the witness through "cross-examination" -- attempting to poke holes in the witness's story, attack their credibility, or otherwise discredit the witness and his or her testimony.
  • After cross-examination, the side that originally called the witness has a second opportunity to question him or her, through "re-direct examination," and attempt to remedy any damaging effects of cross-examination.

After the government concludes its case-in-chief, the defense can present its own evidence in the same proactive manner. However, in some cases the defense may choose not to present a "case-in-chief," instead deciding to make its key points through cross-examination of the government's witnesses, and challenges to its evidence.

Once the prosecution and defense each have had an opportunity to present their case and to challenge the evidence presented by the other, both sides "rest," meaning that no more evidence will be presented to the jury before closing arguments are made.

Closing Arguments
Similar to the opening statement, the closing argument offers the government and defense a chance to "sum up" the case, recapping the evidence in a light favorable to their respective positions. This is the final chance for the parties to address the jury prior to deliberations, so in closing arguments the government seeks to show why the evidence requires the jury to find the defendant guilty. In turn, the defense tries to establish that the government has fallen short of its "burden of proof," so that the jury must find the defendant "not guilty."

Jury Instruction
After both sides of the case have had a chance to present their evidence and make a closing argument, the next step toward a verdict is jury instruction -- a process in which the judge gives the jury the set of legal standards it will need to decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

The judge decides what legal standards should apply to the defendant's case, based on the criminal charges and the evidence presented during the trial. Often, this process takes place with input and argument from the prosecution and defense. The judge then instructs the jury on those relevant legal principles decided upon, including findings the jury will need to make in order to arrive at certain conclusions. The judge also describes key concepts, such as "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," and defines any crimes the jury may consider, based on the evidence presented at trial.

For example, if the defendant has been charged with voluntary manslaughter, the judge may:

  • Define the elements of voluntary manslaughter, the charged crime;
  • Define the elements of related crimes such as involuntary manslaughter and second-degree murder; and
  • Set out the findings the jury would need to make in order to convict the defendant of each of those crimes.

The case then goes "to the jury."

Jury Deliberation and Verdict
After receiving instruction from the judge, the jurors as a group consider the case through a process called "deliberation," attempting to agree on whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the crime(s) charged. Deliberation is the first opportunity for the jury to discuss the case, a methodical process that can last from a few hours to several weeks. Once the jury reaches a verdict, the jury foreperson informs the judge, and the judge usually announces the verdict in open court. Most states require that a jury in a criminal case be unanimous in finding a defendant "guilty" or "not guilty." In such states, if the jury fails to reach a unanimous verdict and finds itself at a standstill (a "hung" jury), the judge may declare a "mistrial," after which the case may be dismissed or the trial may start over again from the jury selection stage.

After a defendant is convicted or pleads guilty, a judge will decide on the appropriate punishment (or sentence) during the sentencing phase of a criminal case. Sentencing for criminal offenses can range from probation and community service to prison and even the death penalty.

Sentencing Basics:
  • Sentencing Alternatives: From Incarceration to Diversion - Explanation of the various types of alternative sentences, including probation and restitution.
  • Factors Considered in Determining Sentences - Factors that help determine a convicted criminal's sentence, such as prior offenses and the seriousness of the crime.
  • Types of Sentences - Listing of the various different types of sentences imposed for criminal convictions, including concurrent and presumptive sentences.
  • How Sentencing Works FAQ - Answers to frequently asked questions regarding the sentencing process and how judges typically impose sentences.

Sentencing In-Depth:
  • "Three Strikes" Sentencing Laws - Explanation of federal and state laws that provide for mandatory life imprisonment for a third felony conviction.
  • Mandatory Sentences, Uniformity and Consistency - Overview of mandatory minimum sentencing and the different opinions of what a sentence should accomplish.
  • Alternative Sentences - The reasons for, and examples of, alternative sentences such as house arrest or drug treatment programs.
  • Probation FAQ - Answers to frequently asked questions about probation, including penalties for violating probation and what happens if probation is revoked.

Selected State Sentencing Laws - State-specific primers on sentencing laws, such as the use of parole and the passage of mandatory minimum sentencing laws for felonies.

DUI - The Basics
In every state, it is a crime for a driver to operate a vehicle while impaired by the effects of alcohol or drugs. The specific offense may be called driving under the influence (DUI), driving while intoxicated (DWI), operating under the influence (OUI), and even operating a motor vehicle intoxicated (OMVI). Whatever the specific title, DUI laws make it unlawful for a person to operate a car, truck, motorcycle, or commercial vehicle if:

  • The driver's ability to safely operate the vehicle is impaired by the effects of alcohol, illegal drugs, prescribed medications such as painkillers, or even over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines; or
  • The driver is intoxicated at a level above established DUI standards, such as blood-alcohol concentration (BAC).

Field Sobriety and Chemical Tests
When a law enforcement officer makes a vehicle stop and suspects that the driver may be intoxicated, the officer will conduct a "field sobriety" test on the driver, and may ask for his or her consent to some form of chemical test for intoxication. Field sobriety tests usually involve a police officer asking a driver to perform a number of tasks that assess any impairment of the person's physical or cognitive ability. Examples of field sobriety tests include having the driver walk a straight line, heel to toe; having he or she recite the alphabet backwards; and the officer's use of the "horizontal gaze nystagmus" (eye and penlight) test.

Chemical tests can be conducted during the vehicle stop, using a Breathalyzer that measures a driver's blood-alcohol concentration (BAC), or at a hospital, where urine and blood tests can be performed. Many states allow a driver suspected of DUI to choose which type of chemical test is administered.

Refusing a Chemical Test: "Implied Consent" Laws
All states have "implied consent" laws that require vehicle drivers to submit to some form of chemical test, such as breath, blood, or urine testing, if suspected of DUI. The logic behind such laws is that, by assuming the privilege of driving a vehicle on state roads and highways, drivers have effectively given their consent to DUI testing when a police officer reasonably believes the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If a driver refuses to submit to such testing, implied consent laws carry penalties such as mandatory suspension of a driver's license, usually for six months to a year. Often, license sanctions for test refusal are more harsh than those imposed after DUI test failure. In most states a driver's refusal to submit to a chemical test may be used to enhance the penalties imposed if he or she is eventually convicted for DUI.

"Per Se" and "Zero Tolerance" DUI Laws
All states have DUI laws that deem "per se intoxicated" any driver with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) above a set limit (now .08 in all states). This means that drivers with a BAC at or above .08 are intoxicated in the eyes of the law, and no additional proof of driving impairment is necessary.

All states also carry "zero tolerance" laws that target drivers under the legal drinking age. These laws penalize persons under 21 for operating a vehicle with any trace of alcohol in their systems (a BAC above 0.0), or with negligible BAC levels such as .01 or .02.

For a state-by-state listing of laws associated with DUI, go here.

Keep in mind that a driver may still be arrested and convicted for DUI without proof of "per se" intoxication, when other evidence of impaired driving is shown. For example, a driver with a .06 BAC level can be found guilty of DUI if an arresting law enforcement officer testifies that he observed the driver's vehicle swerving badly, and that the driver exhibited both slurred speech and severe inattention during questioning after a vehicle stop.

DUI Convictions: Criminal Penalties
A DUI conviction may carry criminal penalties including fines, jail time, probation, and community service. Some state laws impose certain minimum penalties for first-time offenses, then designate increased penalties for each offense thereafter. Severity of criminal penalties will vary according to the circumstances of the offense, including:

  • Whether the driver has a history of DUI violations;
  • Whether the driver was operating a commercial vehicle at the time of the DUI;
  • Whether the DUI violation occurred while there was a child in the vehicle;
  • Whether the DUI violation occurred simultaneously with another dangerous moving violation, such as reckless driving;
  • Whether the DUI violation involved a car accident in which property damage occurred;
  • Whether the DUI violation involved a car accident in which another person was injured or killed; and
  • Whether the driver was under the legal drinking age at the time of the DUI violation.

For a state-by-state listing of certain penalties associated with DUI, go here.

DUI Arrest and Conviction: Driving Privilege Penalties
In addition to potential criminal penalties, a DUI arrest or conviction will have an immediate negative impact on driving privileges.

Most state laws allow a motor vehicle department to immediately suspend the driver's license of any person operating a vehicle with a BAC above the state limit for intoxication, or any driver who refuses to submit to BAC testing. The driver's vehicle may also be confiscated or impounded, and the DUI offender will likely incur significant administrative costs. This loss of driving privileges can normally occur even before a DUI conviction. Most states allow a DUI arrestee to obtain a temporary license and request an administrative hearing at which he or she may argue against license suspension, or for restoration of limited driving privileges.

As with criminal penalties, the impact of a DUI arrest or conviction on driving privileges will vary according to the driver's history of DUI violations and the severity of the offense. An increasingly popular DUI penalty, especially for repeat offenders, is mandatory installation of an "ignition interlock" device on the offender's vehicle. This breath-testing device measures the vehicle operator's BAC, and will prevent operation of the vehicle if more than a minimum amount of alcohol is detected, such as BAC level of .02. Where this punishment is utilized, most states require the DUI offender to pay costs of installation, rental, and maintenance of the ignition interlock device. Rental fees alone can amount to as much as three dollars per day, so a DUI offender's expenses can add up quickly when an ignition interlock device is required. For a state-by-state listing of certain penalties associated with DUI, go here.

Plea Bargains in DUI Cases
Due to recent law enforcement trends that focus on preventing DUI by penalizing offenders harshly, most district attorney offices refuse to negotiate plea bargains in DUI cases. This is especially true if evidence of the violation is strong. In fact, many states have enacted laws that prohibit government attorneys from entering into plea bargains with DUI defendants. However, in rare cases a DUI charge may be reduced to a lesser offense like reckless driving or an "open beverage" violation.

Getting an Attorney's Help in a DUI Case
If you or a loved one are arrested for DUI, you may need the assistance of an experienced DUI defense lawyer. Unlike civil law cases, in which money or property may be at stake, people charged with DUI may face jail time and driver's license revocation. A skilled attorney who specializes in defending DUI cases will evaluate all the evidence, including the procedure and results of any field sobriety and chemical tests, to ensure that your legal rights are protected.

Get Help Now: Go Here to Find an Experienced DUI Defense Attorney

Stages of a DUI Case
DUI cases, like all criminal cases, follow a specific set of stages beginning with an arrest and at times ending with DUI (or DWI) penalties and possible appeal. The following resources provide a chronological overview of what to expect at each stage of a DUI / DWI case, including the drunk driving arrest, booking & bail, arraignment, preliminary hearings, pre-trial motions, the trial itself, sentencing and appeals.

  • DUI Arrests - What a police officer looks for before a traffic stop, evidence leading to a drunk driving arrest and what to expect during an arrest.
  • DUI Booking & Bail - Explanation of how DUI suspects are processed at the police station and detention facility, including information about bail and bonds.
  • DUI Arraignment - This is the stage in a case where the DUI defendant is read his or her charges and enters a plea.
  • DUI Plea Bargains - Very rare for DUI cases, plea bargains offer DUI offenders a lighter sentence in return for a guilty plea.
  • DUI Preliminary Hearing - In this court proceeding, the judge decides if there is enough evidence for a trial.
  • DUI Pre-Trial Motions - In this stage, the prosecutor and DUI lawyer appear before the judge to argue over admittance of evidence, testimony and other matters.
  • DUI Trial - Evidence and facts of the DUI case are presented to a jury or judge, who apply the law to determine whether the defendant is guilty.
  • DUI Sentencing - The stage of a DUI case following a guilty plea or conviction where DUI penalties are decided.
  • DUI Appeals - After a DUI conviction, an individual may ask a higher court to review his or her case for legal error.

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