HOW THE DUI COURT PROCESS WORKS IN PITTSBURGH & WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA
After you have been arrested for DUI, your case will begin its path through the court system in Pittsburgh or the county of your arrest. Navigating this system can be complicated, so working with a skilled, experienced DUI lawyer will help bring you peace of mind throughout the process.
Every county in Western Pennsylvania handles DUI cases differently. It is important to retain a qualified lawyer who understands the specific court procedures in the county where you are charged with a DUI. The information below summarizes the DUI Court process in Allegheny County.
When police have probable cause to believe that you have committed one or more crimes, they will file a criminal complaint with the local magistrate, which is the formal document used to institute criminal charges against you. Most DUI cases are instituted by summons, where charges are filed some time after your arrest, and your paperwork is sent to you in the mail. If proceedings are instituted by summons, you will receive a copy of the criminal complaint, fingerprint order, notice on how to apply for a public defender and related documents.
If you receive a fingerprint order, do not be late! If you appear late for your fingerprint appointment, you may not be printed, and your bail could be revoked as a result.
Your preliminary hearing will most likely be scheduled within 3 to 10 days after your arrest. This is the first important phase of your prosecution where you will need to be represented by an attorney. At the preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth must establish that a crime was committed, and it was more likely than not that you committed the crime. The burden of proof is far less than what is required to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
At your preliminary hearing, your attorney will try to get one or more of the charges against you dismissed, attempt to negotiate a plea agreement, or come to an understanding with the prosecuting officer regarding a future plea deal on your case. As it typically takes the crime lab 4-8 weeks to generate lab results, you may learn of your BAC for the first time at your preliminary hearing.
A formal arraignment is scheduled between 5-8 weeks after your preliminary hearing. This is a proceeding where you are entitled to receive a formal reading of your charges from a Court of Common Pleas Judge, and must enter a plea of guilty or not-guilty. It is customary to enter a plea of not guilty and waive your right to a formal arraignment.
After your formal arraignment, strict deadlines for filing pretrial motions are imposed. If you want the DA's office to provide a detailed description of the factual allegations against you, a Bill of Particulars must be requested within 7 days after arraignment. Pretrial Motions to challenge violations of your constitutional rights must be filed within 30 days after arraignment.
Around the time of your arraignment, if you qualify for the ARD program, and would like to pursue this diversionary program, your lawyer can guide you through this process. Typically, about a week before your arraignment, your attorney can contact the local DA's office to determine if you will receive an ARD offer. If granted an offer, your ARD interview can be scheduled on the same date at your formal arraignment.
At your ARD interview, you will need to waive your Speedy Trial rights, schedule a Court Reporting Network evaluation, and will learn about other program requirements. Afterwards, an ARD hearing date will be scheduled. In Allegheny County, ARD hearings are held on two Fridays each month.
After your arraignment, the court will schedule a Pre-Trial Conference on your case. During the week of your pre-trial conference, your attorney will receive discovery, which includes all the paperwork and evidence compiled in your case. At the Pre-Trial Conference, your case will either be listed for a jury or non-jury trial. However, it may be possible to negotiate a plea agreement on your case on the date of your Pre-Trial Conference.
PRE-TRIAL MOTIONS HEARING
If you have filed a pre-trial motion on your case, a hearing will be scheduled to take testimony and make argument on the motions. This may occur before trial or on the date of your trial. If your Judge wants your attorney to provide legal research, the Judge may order that your DUI defense attorney and the Assistant District Attorney provide written briefs to assist the court in ruling on your case.
Common Pre-Trial motions include motions to request discovery, motions to suppress evidence for violations of your constitutional rights, motions to challenge whether there is probable cause for you to stand trial on charges, and motions to exclude certain evidence from being offered at trial.
PLEA OR TRIAL
If your case resolves with a plea agreement, you will plead guilty either on the date of your pre-trial conference or trial date. If you proceed to trial, you can choose a jury or non-jury trial. With a jury trial, you along with your lawyer and the prosecutor will select 12 jurors and alternates to hear testimony and render a verdict. With a non-jury trial, the Judge stands in the role of the jury to determine if the prosecutor has proven your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Under Pennsylvania law, if convicted of a crime, you must be sentenced within 90 days unless you waive this right and agree to an extension. A pre-sentence investigation may be ordered, which is an informational report compiled to provide the Judge with more information about your criminal and family background, as well as a proposed sentence.
With most negotiated plea agreements in Allegheny County, the person is sentenced immediately after entering their plea. Your attorney will be able to determine whether or not it is in your best interest to be sentenced immediately, or to order a pre-sentence investigation to delay sentencing.
If convicted after a trial, you may file an appeal to challenge the court's decisions if there were errors. There are very specific deadlines and grounds for filing appeals, so you should talk to your defense lawyer about this option.