Pre-Trials Steps in DC DUI Cases
In DC and throughout the country, every person who faces a criminal charge is entitled to take their case to a trial. A trial means that a person will have a court hearing during which the prosecutors in the case will be required to present their evidence and witnesses either to the judge or to a jury to prove that the defendant committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. A person is always presumed innocent until a prosecutor has proven them guilty at that high level of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
It is always the decision of a defendant as to whether they want to take the case to a trial or resolve the case without a trial. If a defendant decides that they would like to challenge the government’s evidence with a DC DUI attorney and make the government prove them guilty, he has the right to have a trial and force the government to meet that burden of proof.
Even though every defendant has a right to have a trial where they will be presumed innocent until proven guilty by the prosecutors, most criminal cases will not go to a trial. The reason is that too many people get arrested and charged with crimes for the prosecutors to be able to take every case they charge to a trial. Trials can be very time-consuming, take a lot of resources, and place a heavy burden on the courts who have limited resources to be able to hear trials for every criminal case. As a result, there are options for many people with criminal cases to be able to resolve their cases without a trial.
These resolutions can be through plea negotiations or through other negotiations that can sometimes result in defendants having their charges dismissed. These negotiations can result in a defendant having a more favorable result than what might occur after a trial. They also serve the government’s interest by reducing the number of cases that consume a lot of resources with a trial.
Before Appearing In Court
Before the actual day of trial, the defense has the responsibility of going over all the evidence, discussing the evidence with their client, filing any motions that are relevant in the case, including those that could result in certain evidence being suppressed, and filing any other requests that can place the defendant in the most advantageous position possible.
Day of Trial
If the case will be heard before a jury, the first step is to pick the jury. Once the defense and the prosecutors go through the process of selecting a jury, the government would make an opening statement describing what kind of evidence they plan to use to prove the defendant guilty.
The defense could then make its own opening statement to describe to the jury what kind of defense might be raised, what things the jury should be listening for and expecting from the prosecutor, and why the defense expects that the government would not be able to meet its burden of proof. Once both sides have made their opening statements, the government always begins first since they have the burden of proving a defendant guilty.
Prosecution Calls Witnesses
The government would then call one witness at a time. In a DUI case, for example, the government’s first witness would probably be the police officer who initiated the traffic stop that resulted in the DUI investigation. The prosecutor would ask this police officer questions about why they initiated the stop, what they observed about the defendant driving, any observations they made of the defendant’s demeanor, and a description of everything they saw.
Once the government has finished asking questions of its first witness, the defense attorney would have the opportunity to conduct a cross-examination of the prosecutor’s witness. A cross-examination allows the defense to ask questions of the government’s witness to challenge the government witness’s recollection and observations, and make the jury aware of any holes in his testimony.
When the defense has finished cross-examining the first witness, the government would have an opportunity to ask an additional set of questions to the first witness before that witness is excused. The government would then call the second witness if it has one, and the same process would repeat. The government asks the first questions, the defense asks cross-examination questions, and the government can ask another round of its own questions before that witness is excused. Once the government has called all of its witnesses and presented its evidence, the government would rest, meaning they indicate to the court that they have completed their evidence.
Motion for Acquittal
Once the government has completed its presentation of evidence, which is referred to as its case in chief, the defense will have the opportunity to make a motion for a judgment of acquittal. That means the defense is arguing to the court that, assuming the credibility of the government’s witnesses and making all inferences in the light most favorable to the prosecutors, there is still not enough evidence for any reasonable juror to be able to find the defendant guilty. The prosecutors have a low burden of proof to be able to survive a motion for a judgment of acquittal, but if the court believes the defense has successfully argued their motion the judge could grant the motion and dismiss the case.
If not, the defense would have the opportunity to present its own witnesses. The defense could call a witness and ask direct examination questions. Then the prosecutors would have the opportunity to cross-examine the defense witness. The process works in a similar way to the prosecution’s case.
Once the defense has called all of its witnesses, the defense can rest. At that point, the prosecutors have the option of calling rebuttal witnesses. Rebuttal witnesses serve the limited purpose of having the prosecutor call additional witnesses or recall any of their earlier witnesses to rebut certain testimony introduced by the defense.
Once the prosecution has finished calling any rebuttal witnesses, both sides can proceed to their closing arguments. Typically, closing arguments would be started by the government as they bear the burden of proof, and would serve their purpose of summarizing the evidence that the jury heard. The government would make the arguments for why the evidence they submitted proves that the defendant committed the crime. The prosecutors then go through all of the evidence and make arguments as to why they have met their burden.
The defense could then make a closing argument giving their reasons why the government has not met their burden of proof, either because certain witnesses were not credible, the prosecutors did not emit certain types of evidence, or the prosecutors did not submit enough evidence to meet their high burden of proof. Once both sides have made their closing arguments, the judge or the jury would make their final verdict of guilty or not guilty.
Length of Trial
A typical DUI trial can take one to two days. In most DUI cases, the prosecutor’s evidence is limited to the testimony of one to three police officers and there are not frequently non-officer witnesses in DUI cases.
Since there are rarely more than two to three police officers in any DUI case, these trials can often be resolved in two days. If the DUI case is being tried before a jury, the trial could potentially take longer because of the time it takes to pick the jury and the time it takes for a jury to deliberate and reach a verdict. Even at their longest, DUI trials rarely take more than one week.