One of our Attorneys, Bradley Oastler, from our Syracuse office, looks into the life of a DWI charge and what happens when someone is charged.
A DWI charge will be considered by most who experience it as a nightmare, from start to finish. New York State, like all states in the country, treats these offenses seriously and the penalties that can be imposed by a court, by the Department of Motor Vehicles, or by the district attorney are often severe. But the process of getting to a punishment can take numerous paths, and the life of a DWI charge from arrest to disposition can vary greatly.
A DWI charge will originate typically after a traffic stop. A law enforcement officer witnesses a traffic violation of some sort- oftentimes speeding or failing to signal- and pulls the vehicle over. The officer conducts an investigation in the field and will, in a method prescribed by their training, determine a driver is impaired or intoxicated and arrest the driver for DWI. Sometimes people will be arrested after an accident or as a result of a sobriety checkpoint, situations where no formal traffic stop is initiated.
The arrested driver is transported to a police barracks or public safety building and will be offered a chemical breath test. A driver can refuse to provide a breath sample, an action which carries strict consequences, or can choose to cooperate. The arresting officer will oftentimes take a person’s photograph and fingerprints at that point, and issue the person tickets with a date on which to show up in court. The police do have the option to hold a driver overnight or bring them in front of a judge immediately if circumstances dictate. Bail can be ordered if there are factors that present concern to a judge.
At the first court appearance, or arraignment, a driver will appear in front of a local court judge; outside of New York City, appearances are at the village, town, or city courts. Typically, the judge will suspend a driver’s license pending prosecution, meaning that while a case is pending, you unfortunately have limited or no driving privileges. Felony DWI cases can only be prosecuted in county court, and a case is transferred to that higher level either by consent of the driver and defense team, or after a grand jury issues an indictment. At the arraignment, a not guilty plea should be entered.
Now that a DWI case has formally commenced in a court of law, the defense team will negotiate with the district attorney’s office for a plea offer. An appealing plea offer usually guarantees a benefit in one of two ways- either a reduction in the charge that a motorist is facing, or a guarantee of a light sentence compared to what could be imposed. Many cases approach the end of their life span at this point. Many people will find that a plea offer is appealing because it limits the risk they face and greatly shortens the length of time their case will take. From arrest to plea offer can take as little as a few weeks, though some cases can take a great deal longer if negotiations are lengthy or unforeseen complications arise.
If a plea offer is accepted, the defense attorney will accompany the driver to court to ensure that the sentence imposed is proper and to argue for the lightest sentence possible. Defense teams at Nave DWI Defense Attorneys ensure that our clients are given pertinent, in-depth information as to future requirements and obligations that a driver must complete.
At this point, a case is typically a month or so old. If a plea offer has been made and rejected, or if no plea offer if forthcoming, the remaining option is to litigate. The defense team will file motions requesting a pretrial probable cause hearing and suppression of evidence if necessary or beneficial. In all likelihood, a pretrial hearing will be held during which the basis for the traffic stop, checkpoint, and/or arrest will be explored. If anything about the police conduct was in violation of a driver’s rights, evidence can be suppressed or charges may be dismissed. A pretrial hearing of this sort is typically a few months into the life cycle of a DWI case, though again, it can be longer based on negotiations, discovery, or other issues.
Following a pretrial hearing, assuming there was no dismissal, the defense team would begin to prepare for trial. A jury trial at the local court level will take place usually several months after the pretrial hearing. Scheduling depends not only on the defense team, but largely on the court’s calendar and the district attorney’s as well. Local court jury trials are in front of six jurors and typically last two days, depending on the number of witnesses and how long the jury needs to deliberate. Felony trials at the county court level are in front of twelve jurors, and can last longer especially in light of a lengthier jury selection process. By the time a trial commences, a case is typically 6-12 months old, depending in large part on the court’s calendar and the length of negotiations.
At Nave DWI Defense Attorneys, we are especially in tune with our clients’ needs. We routinely represent clients who have needs that are time-sensitive. For some, getting a reduction and entering a plea in a matter of days is critical, and we can assist in making sure a resolution is speedy and beneficial. A plea offer can sometimes be obtained and accepted in a single court appearance. Other clients have fewer concerns about timeliness, but are bothered by the traffic stop or police conduct. For those that want to defend their rights through a trial by a jury of their peers, our experience handling trial-bound cases is invaluable.
The time frames can vary. A disposition through a plea offer can take as little as a few days to a few weeks, or longer if extensive negotiations are needed. Some plea offers take upwards of a year to secure if a case is a difficult one. Disposition by trial is a lengthy process, and it is not unusual for cases to last a year or more. Your defense team should be sensitive to your needs and concerns and do their best not only to ensure a disposition that is beneficial to you, but also done in a timely fashion.
DISCLAIMER: The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem. Corporate offices for Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are located at 432 N. Franklin Street, Suite 80, Syracuse, NY 13204; Telephone No.: 1-866-792-7800. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Attorney Advertising.