The Steps in a Michigan Drunk Driving (DUI) Case - Part 2

July 23, 2010

In the first part of this article, we examined the steps in a DUI case from Arrest to Pre-Trial. In this installment, we'll pick up at the Trial stage. This assume that any prior Pre-Trials have been unsuccessful in bringing about an agreement to resolve the case.

If there are doubts as to the validity of the Traffic Stop, or the evidence collected, or method of collection, then an Evidentiary Hearing is set where the Defense Lawyer challenges the Stop and the collection of the Evidence, and seeks to have it excluded, or "thrown out." This type of Hearing takes place before any Trial is commenced.

steps2.jpgA Trial is either conducted by Jury, or by a Judge sitting without a Jury. This latter proceeding is called a Bench Trial. Often, when it seems that the case will be resolved, one way or another, without the need for an actual Trial, the matter is scheduled for a Bench Trial so that the Arresting Officer, and any other necessary witnesses will be present along with the Prosecutor and Defense Lawyer.

If a case actually goes to Trial, the result of that Trial is called a Verdict. A Verdict in a DUI can either be Guilty, Guilty of a Lesser Charge, or Not Guilty. If a person goes to Trial and beats the case, then the matter is over, period.

Very few DUI cases actually go to Trial. Instead, and as mentioned above, the vast majority of DUI cases are worked out though the Plea Bargaining Process.

If the person enters a Plea, or is found guilty after a Trial, then 2 more dates are set. The first is for the legally required Alcohol Assessment. The second is for the actual Sentencing date.

By Michigan Law, prior to being Sentenced, a person must undergo a mandatory Alcohol Assessment. This is often called a PSI, which means "Pre-Sentence Investigation." The PSI is conducted by the Court's Probation Department in every Court except the 72nd District Court in Marine City, which farms it out to one of a few local Substance Abuse Counseling Programs. This is by far the most important part of any DUI case, because the end result of this process is a written recommendation to the Judge advising him or her what should be done with and to the person who got the DUI. And in almost every case, that recommendation can be considered a blueprint for what the Judge will do.

At the heart of the PSI process is the Alcohol Assessment Test. This will be one of several standardized tests used to assess a person's drinking history and pattern, and essentially measures 5 different markers of an alcohol problem, or a potential problem: Family History, Social Comment, Blackouts, Social Conflict and Effects Threshold. The higher a person's test score, the more serious their alcohol problem, if any, or the greater the potential there is for one to develop. Conversely, the lower a person's test score, the less severe their alcohol problem, if any, or the lower their potential to develop one.

Obviously, getting the lowest score possible on this test is VERY IMPORTANT, as it, more than anything else, will determine what happens to the person at Sentencing. The key thing here is to prepare the Client so that they will wind up with the least amount of consequences possible.

Once the PSI interview and testing have been conducted, and the legally required written recommendation forwarded to the Court, the next step is the actual Sentencing itself.

On the Sentencing date, the Client and the Defense Lawyer review the PSI before going in front of the Judge. Absent any errors, when the Judge calls the case, the person finds out what will happen to them. If the PSI process went well, then the person will find themselves dealing with far less "consequences" than if it did not go as well as it otherwise could have. Although the Lawyer and the Client have an opportunity to speak, hoping for any significant deviation from what's been recommended in the PSI is really a futile endeavor. This is why making sure the Client understands the importance of this part of the process, and how to handle it, and is as well-prepared for it as possible, is so important. Good PSI's produce favorable Sentences, and bad PSI's produce stiffer outcomes.

As a result of the Sentencing, a person can simply be given Fines and Costs, or they can be placed on Probation. Of course, in certain cases, they can also be sent to Jail, but if things are handled properly, in all but the rarest of cases, the person will simply be required to deal with Probation. This can range from simple, short "stay of out trouble" Probation to long, difficult intense Probation with all kinds of Conditions. Again, this is a function of the PSI process, and how well, or poorly it went.

As we have seen, the DUI process begins with the Arrest. It is the Arraignment which actually and officially starts a case. The Arraignment can either take place while the person is in custody, or be scheduled for a future date. If a person hires a Lawyer prior to an Arraignment set for a future date, then they can skip showing up to Court for this stage. If they have not hired a Lawyer before the Arraignment date, then they'll have to appear in Court on the scheduled date and enter a Plea of "Not Guilty" to the charge(s) against them.

Thereafter, they will appear in Court, with their Lawyer, for a Pre-Trial, which results in the resolution of the vast majority of cases.

In certain cases, there may bean actual Trial, which can be conducted by a Judge sitting with a Jury (Jury Trial) or by a Judge sitting alone, without a Jury (Bench Trial). Prior to an actual Trial, there may be an Evidentiary Hearing challenging the case of the evidence within it. If a person goes to Trial and is found "Not Guilty," then the case is over.

If a person pleads guilty to some offense or other, or is found guilty of some offense or other, then 2 more things are scheduled, a PSI and the actual Sentencing. After the Sentencing the person will have to complete all the Terms and Conditions of Probation, if any, or otherwise deal with any other consequences imposed by the Court.