An arrest for driving under the influence (DUI) or for driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a serious matter. A DUI conviction is a criminal conviction that can have serious consequences. After an arrest for DUI, the accused person’s next steps could be critical. The defendant may need to think about hiring an attorney who has plenty of experience with DUI cases.
After a DUI arrest, the driver will generally need to appear in court for an arraignment. At the arraignment, the accused will generally need to plead “guilty” or “not guilty” to the DUI charges. Plea negotiations are possible in DUI cases, so many defendants choose to plead “not guilty” at the arraignment and preserve all of their legal options.
The second issue addressed at the arraignment is whether the court will release the defendant from police custody. If the court grants the defendant’s release, the judge may require payment of a specified bail amount. However, the court might also choose to release an individual on his or her own recognizance (ROR) without requiring bail. The state can charge a DUI offense as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of specific incident which resulted in the arrest. Generally, ROR without bail is only an option for a first-time misdemeanor offense.
After an arrest, the DUI next steps often include hiring an attorney and getting an honest assessment of the defendant’s specific case under the laws of the state.
If the facts of a case don’t clearly favor either the defense or the prosecution, both sides may feel motivated to reach a plea bargain. The prosecutor can avoid the expense of a trial and get a guaranteed conviction, even if for a lesser offense, while a defendant may be able to get a lighter penalty by accepting a plea bargain. DUI penalties in most states become cumulatively more aggressive if the defendant’s record includes prior DUI convictions. A record containing several DUI incidents might eventually result in the permanent revocation of the individual’s driving license and/or result in a long prison sentence. Accordingly, plea bargaining down to a non-DUI offense or misdemeanor DUI offense might be a worthwhile option.
However, state laws are becoming stricter about DUI offenses, and many states now have strict liability DUI laws that remove a prosecutor’s incentive to offer a plea bargain. In Illinois, the law actually prohibits prosecutors from plea bargaining in some cases.
If there is no plea bargain offered in a DUI case, the defendant’s only option may be to challenge the facts of the charges. For example, a defense attorney might challenge the legality of the police stop, the accuracy of the blood alcohol content test, or the results of the field sobriety test.
Going to Trial
If plea bargaining isn’t successful and the DUI charge isn’t one of strict liability, the next steps likely require preparing for and going to trial. The defendant will have to decide if it will be a jury trial or bench trial for which a judge decides the verdict.
In Illinois, a driver can have his or her driver’s license suspended for even refusing to take a chemical test that would detect intoxication. License suspensions run from one to three years, and the length of time often depends on whether the individual has past DUI convictions.
DUI convictions in Illinois can result in fines, imprisonment, driver’s license revocation, and community service requirements. An individual who has more prior DUI convictions will likely receive more severe penalties if convicted again in the future.