I am being charged with DUI – What happens next?
In Pennsylvania, police have the option to arrest an individual and immediately bring him or her before a magistrate for bail to be set, or to proceed by way of Summons in which the individual receives the charges in the mail. An overwhelming majority of DUI cases proceed by summons and most individuals suspected of DUI are either driven home by police or allowed to call for a ride home after they are processed. The Summons and Criminal Complaint typically arrives by certified and regular mail approximately 2 – 3 weeks later.
- The Preliminary Hearing:
The first hearing is an evidence hearing before the local District Justice where the crime was alleged to have been committed. It is a very important stage in the process and should not be attended without an attorney. At this hearing, the prosecution must demonstrate to the District Justice that there is enough evidence to bind the charges over to the Court of Common Pleas. The District Justice does not determine guilt or innocence, nor does he or she impose punishment for the offense; the judge simply determines if there is enough evidence in the case.
If there is not enough evidence against you, the District Justice will dismiss the case. If the state demonstrates that there is enough evidence, the District Justice will hold over the charges and you will be given an Arraignment date in the county court. Bail is typically set at the Preliminary Hearing, which could range from unsecured bail (released on recognizance) to cash bail which would be required to be posted immediately. Most individuals charged with DUI are not required to post bail and are typically released on their own recognizance. The Preliminary hearing usually occurs within 45 days after the charges are filed and can be postponed by an attorney, if necessary.
- Formal Arraignment:
Approximately 30-60 days after the Preliminary Hearing (depending on the county) the Formal Arraignment is scheduled in the Court of Common Pleas. This hearing is a procedural hearing in which a plea of Not Guilty is automatically entered and you are served with the formal charges against you and given your trial date. Some counties, your attorney can "waive" your appearance at this hearing which excuses you from attending this formality and the paperwork will then be sent to you in the mail. Other counties require you and your attorney to attend.
After the Arraignment, you are permitted to file a Motion for Discovery in which the District Attorney must turn over all of the police reports, witness statements and all other evidence against you. Additionally, you are permitted to file Motions, including a Motion to Suppress Evidence in which the prosecution must prove to a judge that the police acted constitutionally in stopping you and gathering evidence against you. If the Judge decides after a hearing that the police acted improperly, then all of the evidence in your case is suppressed (thrown out) and the charges against you are dropped.
- Trial Date / ARD date:
Depending on the county, the third court date occurs anywhere from 45-90 days after the Formal Arraignment. Some counties schedule Pretrial Hearings, which is a conference between your attorney, the DA and the judge. Other counties that do not have Pretrial Hearings will issue trial dates at which time the individual either enters a plea of guilty or goes to trial before a judge or jury. A majority of individuals are sentenced on this date, if found guilty. At sentencing, defendants are permitted to introduce evidence (character witnesses, AA sponsors, medical records, etc.) to assist the judge in determining the appropriate sentence.
If the individual is eligible for the ARD program for first time offenders, an "ARD" hearing date is scheduled approximately 60-90 days after the Arraignment. If accepted into the ARD program, the charges are eventually dropped after successful completion of classes and community service. The ARD program is discussed in more detail in Chapter VI: First Time Offenders.