What It’s All About

The step-by-step course of cases through the criminal justice system remains a mystery to many who haven’t seen the process first hand.

For DUI cases, the course of progress is further clouded by the branching paths available for resolution of the matter.

Following arrest, a defendant with DUI charges against them will face an initial arraignment before the magisterial district judge.

During the arraignment, the defendant will formally be presented with the charges he or she faces and, depending on severity of charges and risk of failure to appear for future court dates, will be incarcerated or have bail set. Bail can be set as secured, meaning a defendant will be incarcerated unless they post actual funds, or unsecured, in which case a bond may be posted against the defendants failure to appear at later court proceedings on the matter.

Next, a defendant will face a preliminary hearing before the magisterial district court.

During the hearing the prosecution will present the evidence against the defendant and the district magistrate will determine whether enough evidence exists to justify taking the case further. The district judge makes no ruling of guilt or innocence at this time, they merely determine whether enough evidence exists to potentially prosecute the case. Preliminary hearings are often waived, in effect, the defendant agrees enough evidence exists to justify presenting the case.

In DUI cases, and in most cases involving more than the most minor offenses, the matter is then moved to the Court of Common Pleas.

A defendant will, at this point, face another arraignment proceeding.

The arraignment before the Court of Common Pleas is a formal reading of the charges being levied by the prosecution. As the case is entering a new court system, another arraignment is required. These charges may or may not be the same as those levied during the district arraignment proceedings. At this point, the district attorney’s office has formally entered charges before the court based on the affidavit of probable cause filed in the initial criminal complaint and subsequent investigation. Often, adjustments to the charges are the result of a plea agreement between the defense and prosecution.

During this arraignment proceeding, a defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty to the charges presented.

If a defendant opts to enter a guilty plea, the matter moves to a sentencing proceeding, the accelerated rehabilitative disposition (A.R.D.) program or, in counties with such a program, treatment court.

If a defendant enters a not guilty plea, the matter moves to trial.

Prior to trial, the court may entertain omnibus pre-trial motions, such as motions to suppress evidence or for a change of venue.

Once pre-trial motions are considered, a trial will be scheduled. The trial can be heard by a jury or by the common pleas judge alone at the defendants discretion.

If found guilty at trial, the defendants case moves to a sentencing proceeding.

Mandatory sentences for DUI fall within a wide-range depending on blood alcohol level and number of prior offenses. Mandatory minimums start at six months probation, a $300 fine, participation in an alcohol highway safety school program and compliance with any treatment needs indicated by the results of a mandatory court report network (CRN) test required in all DUI cases for a first offense general impairment, BAC .08 to .99 or judged to be impaired by law enforcement, charge. Highest rate of alcohol, BAC .16 or higher, offenders with two or more prior DUI convictions face a mandatory minimum of one to five years in prison, a $2,500 to $10,000 fine, an 18 month license suspension, one year required usage of an ignition interlock system and required treatment.