What happens when I am charged with a DUI?
Being charged with a DUI can be a frustrating, confusing and frightening experience. People are are left wondering whether they will go to jail, lose their license, or worse. I've handled hundreds of DUI's and can walk you through every step of the process. Every case is different, so it's best to sit down with an attorney to discuss your particular situation. However, here is a general overview of what happens when you are charged with a DUI in Colorado:
1) DMV hearing. There are two parts to a DUI: the administrative portion, which is handled through the DMV, and the criminal case, which is handled through the court system. The administrative DMV portion will move much quicker than the criminal case. A person can fight to keep their license during this time, but they must specifically make a request for an administrative DMV hearing within 7 days of their arrest (or within 7 days of the police taking their license). If a person fails to request an administrative hearing within 7 days, they lose the right to have a hearing and their license will be automatically suspended. DMV hearings generally occur within 60 days of when the person requests the hearing. An attorney can represent you at this hearing and fight for you to keep your license.
2) The Arraignment. An arraignment is the name for the court hearing where the person is formally informed of the charges being filed against them. Every county's court system does things slightly differently, but generally a person may enter a plea at this hearing, or the judge may allow them more time to continue negotiating with the district attorney. Generally arraignments occur within 30-60 days of the arrest.
3) Pre-trial Conference. A pre-trial conference is a court hearing that occurs anywhere from several weeks to several months after the arraignment. The purpose of this hearing is to see if the defendant and the district attorney can reach a plea bargain. Prior to the pre-trial conference, your attorney and the prosecutor will engage in negotiations to try and work out a deal for you. If a plea bargain is reached by this date, the person will enter their plea in front of the judge, but sentencing must typically be set out about 60 days. If a plea bargain has not been reached by the pre-trial conference, the case will proceed to trial.
4) Trial and Sentencing. Colorado law requires that the trial be held within 6 months of when the person enters a not guilty plea. Colorado allows defendants to either have a court trial (a trial where the judge decides whether the person is guilty or not guilty) or a jury trial. Jury trials are much more common than court trials. In a jury trial for a misdemeanor DUI in Colorado, a jury of six people will listen to the evidence and the arguments of the attorneys and will ultimately issue a verdict of guilty or not guilty. If the jury decides that the person is guilty, the judge will decide what the person's sentence is. DUI's carry a wide range of possible penalties including jail time, fines, probation, classes, drug and alcohol treatment, community service, and a number of collateral (i.e. indirect) consequences.
Every DUI is different and the penalties will depend on the unique facts of your case, your criminal history, and numerous other factors. A good attorney knows the criminal court system and DMV proceedings inside and out, and can act quickly on your behalf to ensure that you get the best outcome possible. The sooner you get an attorney working on your case, the better the outcome will be.