The Steps in a Michigan Drunk Driving (DUI) Case - Part 1

July 19, 2010

As a DUI Lawyer who also writes this Blog, I have tried to explain how a DUI case works in detail. I think my Drunk Driving section pretty much examines every aspect of a DUI case under a microscope. One thing I haven't done yet, however, is to really just lay out the steps in a typical DUI case without a lot of in-depth examination.

This article will cover the steps anyone facing a DUI will inevitably go through as the case goes from beginning to end. Because of the amount of material we'll be covering, even this somewhat topical review will require the article to be broken into 2 installments.

Steps1.jpgFirst, lets begin with what precedes a DUI case. Before a DUI "case" can be made, there must be an Arrest for Drunk Driving. And note that an Arrest for a DUI does not actually begin a "case." The "case" part of things only comes about when that Arrest results in a Court-authorized charge for DUI.

So an Arrest is a necessary prerequisite to a DUI case. Following the Arrest is the trip to the Police Station, and the Breathalyzer (or blood) test. Typically, a person is held in custody until their Bodily Alcohol Content (BAC) is low enough for them to be legally and safely released. If the Police let an intoxicated person post Bond and go home, they would be liable if the person was injured, or injured someone else because of their intoxication.

In most jurisdictions, a person will be released the next day, after either posting a small, interim Bond out of their own money, or having someone come up to the Police Station and post the Bond for them. While most often in the amount of $100 to $300, sometimes a person can be required to put up as much as $500 before the Police will release them.

In these jurisdictions, the Police let the person post a Bond with an understanding that they'll either be contacted by the Court, or have to contact the Court on their own within a specified number of days.

In a minority of jurisdictions, a person is brought before a Judge or a Magistrate the next day for an Arraignment. Arraignment is the very first step in what can be described as making a case "official." At an Arraignment, the Defendant is told exactly what charge or charges are being brought against them, informed of the maximum legal penalties that can be imposed upon them for each charge, advised of their Constitutional Rights, asked how they plead (to which everyone should respond "Not Guilty"), and then have their Bond amount set. This Arraignment can either be done in person, by bringing the person into an actual Courtroom, or by closed-circuit video, where the Jail has the person sit in a "video room." At the conclusion of the Arraignment, the person will either be given their next Court date, and/or will be told that a Notice of that date will be mailed to them.

In those jurisdictions where the person is released from Police custody after posting an interim Bond, the case hasn't yet formally begun until their Arraignment happens. Most often, even if they're directed to contact the Court within so many days, the Court will tell them that they'll receive a "Notice to Appear" in Court some time later.

In almost every one of these jurisdictions, if a person hires a Lawyer prior to that Arraignment date, and the Lawyer files certain papers (called an "Appearance and Waiver of Arraignment") with the Court, they will not need to go to Court for the purpose of just being Arraigned. Instead, upon receipt of the Lawyers papers, the Court will enter a Plea of "Not Guilty" for the person. This starts the case, and makes it official.

In a few jurisdictions, even though a person has posted an interim bond, the Notice they subsequently receive from the Court is for an "Arraignment/Pre Trial." This is really a misnomer, and is, in practice no different than if they just receive a Notice to Appear for a Pre-Trial.

Okay, so lets recap: A person is Arrested for a DUI. They're either let out after posting a Bond at the Police Station, or, in a few cases, are actually "brought" before a Judge or Magistrate, either in person, or by video. One way or another, they receive a Notice to Appear in Court, either for an Arraignment, an Arraignment/Pre-Trial, or a Pre-Trial. In those cases where they were not Arraigned while in Police custody, in all but a few jurisdictions, hiring a Lawyer prior to the Arraignment date will result in the person not having to go to Court for that proceeding. Instead, they'll wait to receive a Notice to Appear for either an Arraignment/Pre-Trial, or just a Pre-Trial.

The Pre-Trial is the first substantive Court proceeding in any DUI case. It's where the Defense Attorney and the Prosecutor meet for the first time to discuss the case. The strengths, and any weaknesses in the case are examined, with an eye toward working out a deal (Plea-Bargain) in any case which doesn't appear to be likely to either be dismissed after a Trial, or for lack of, or problems with the evidence, the legal process in obtaining that evidence, or other technical reasons.

At the Pre-Trial, the Lawyer examines the Prosecutors actual file. This way, the Defense Attorney knows he or she has reviewed everything the Prosecutor has.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, the Pre-Trial results in some kind of a Plea Bargain, or Plea Deal which resolves the case. Often, in 1st Offense cases, this means the person will plead guilty to a reduced charge of Impaired Driving, and the original charge or OWI (the actual name for a DUI in Michigan) is dismissed.

In 2nd Offense cases, deals are often made to avoid Jail completely.

In 3rd Offense cases, a deal is often had to either reduce the charge from the 3rd Offense Felony down to a 2nd Offense Misdemeanor case, or, if that can't be done (doing that is essentially limited to Macomb County), then minimizing the Jail time the person will receive. To be clear, under Michigan Law, a person who is found guilty (either by Plea, or after Trial) of a 3rd Offense DUI must serve a mandatory minimum of 30 days in Jail.

Sometimes, for any number of reasons, the case cannot be resolved at the first Pre-Trial. In those cases where it looks like things can still be resolved by agreement, and perhaps because some other things need to be checked out or investigated, another Pre-Trial date is set.

The next step, if the matter cannot be resolved at a Pre-Trial, is an actual Trial. In the next installment of this article, we'll pick up at the Trial stage, after any and all Pre-Trials have not resulted in some resolution of the case.