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DUI Preliminary Hearing

So you were arrested for a DUI, and brought before the judge. Under your attorney's advice, you plead not guilty. At the time, you knew that pleading "guilty" would mean that you admitted to the charges, and wanted to go straight to sentencing. But, you chose the constitutional right to a trial. If you got out on bail, you may be sitting at home wondering what will happen next. Rather than go to trial, the next step is called a "preliminary hearing." The following article covers the basics of a preliminary hearing, and what you should expect.

Preliminary Hearing Basics

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. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your arrest, this may or may not be a fast proceeding.

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 is dismissed before trial.

Preliminary Hearing: Not in Most DUI Cases

It is important to note that most DUI cases do not reach the preliminary hearing stage. In the majority of such cases, the arraignment usually represents the first and last time the suspect will be in court, as most DUI suspects choose to plead guilty, especially if evidence of intoxication is strong. This is normally the case when the defendant took a breathalyzer test which shows that the defendant had a blood alcohol content (BAC) over the legal limit.

Furthermore, a preliminary hearing may not be held in every DUI 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, though exceedingly rare in DUI cases, the possibility always exists that any time prior to the preliminary hearing the case will be resolved through a plea bargain between the government and the defendant.

If you would like to know more about the DUI process, or have questions that are specific to your DUI case, you may want to contact a DUI attorney in your area who may be able to help.

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