What You Need To Know About Your First DUI in Jacksonville, Florida
You have recently been arrested for a DUI and are hopefully looking around for an attorney and trying to understand what is going to happen. The not knowing and nervousness is a good thing, it means you are not a frequent visitor to the criminal justice system, you have always followed the law and you are scared now of what will happen. A DUI can have serious and permanent consequences and getting help and advice from an attorney is a very smart move.
Important First Steps After Being Arrested For A DUI
First and foremost, you need to try to recall everything about your interaction with the police and what you were doing prior to being stopped. Are there any witnesses, how many officers were present, was there an accident, did you make any admissions to anyone, were you out at a bar, do you have any receipts, what did the officer say to you? Having as much information as possible will help your attorney provide you with the best counsel and advise on your options.
Next, a decision about your driver's license should be made, you can refer to an article I wrote about DUI Temporary Licenses. Depending on the facts of your case, including the reasons for the stop of your vehicle and whether you provided a breath sample and what that breath sample is, an attorney can advise you on the pros and cons of waiving a hearing on the suspension of your drivers license.
Videos In A DUI Can Make or Break a Case
Sometimes a video exists from the dashboard camera of the police car. Clifton Law Office immediately requests any and all videos in a case, including dashcam and video from the booking area of the jail. Videos can be very important in a DUI, because so much of the evidence against a defendant is based upon a police officers observations. As you can imagine sometimes these observations are a bit exaggerated. I had a DUI trial recently where the Arrest and Booking Report described a young woman as off balance, not being able to stand still, not "passing" any of the field sobriety exercises and very clearly trying to paint the picture of a drunk young woman. Upon viewing the video, nothing could have been further from the truth. The video showed a young woman being polite, following all directions and completing all the field exercises (while in high heels) as instructed. Her balance was impeccable. During the trial, the officer kept referring to the "indicators" of intoxication he observed. On cross examination, I slowly went through the entire video with him, having him admit to every positive thing this young woman did and the jury came back in 8 minutes with a not guilty verdict. If we did not have that video, the officer's testimony would have had more credibility and the innocent young woman could have been found guilty.
Videos are not always helpful though, obviously if you were a drunken mess, this will be clearly portrayed on the video and hinder your chances of success at trial. However, it is important for an attorney to get started as early as possible, so don't hesitate calling around and going to several consultations to find the attorney you feel most comfortable with.
What To Expect In Court
After the decision on your license hearing, requesting videos and noting everything you can remember about your arrest and the circumstance that led up to it, you will be most likely be wondering about what to expect as far as court dates, speaking in court and possible punishments.
Your first court date will be your arraignment. Some judges in Duval County require your presence on your first court date. Your attorney should file a waiver of appearance and he/she will be able to tell you whether you have to be there. An arraignment is a court date for you to enter an official plea to the charges. The State Attorney's Office files charges, not the police. Police make the arrest based upon what criminal statutes they believe were violated, however the prosecutor is the person who actually files charges. This is done through what is called an Information, click here to see an example. An Information is the official charging document filed with the court. Often times your arraignment court date for a DUI won't happen on the first date posted. The prosecutor often waits until they get all the "evidence" they need before filing the Information, this would include interviewing the officer, reading reports and viewing any available video. If there are positives in a case, an attorney can sometimes convince the prosecutor to not file DUI charges and dismiss the case or file a reduced charge like Reckless Driving. It may be weeks before you are officially arraigned, having an attorney during this time can benefit you by having an advocate in the prosecutors ear early.
Once the Information is filed, arraignment can take place. If you are present for this court date, and have an attorney, you will not need to say a thing. Your attorney will state on the record that he/she has received the Information and enter a plea of not guilty on your behalf. You will never be required to speak in court unless you are testifying in a hearing or trial. Often after arraignment you are no longer required to be present for future court dates until your case is going to go to trial or be resolved. There may be numerous pretrial dates scheduled where your attorney will be present and explain to the court the current status of the case and raise any issues that need to be addressed, including removal of an ankle monitor or the State not producing evidence. A judge likes to see that the case is moving along and that is one of the main purposes of having these pretrial dates.
During the several months your DUI case may be pending in the court system, you should continue on with your life. Your attorney may ask you to complete some tasks like finishing DUI school and attending a Victim's Impact Panel. By completing these things early you are providing your attorney some bargaining chips for his/her negotiations with the prosecutor. A prosecutor is going to be most concerned about whether they can win a case, so your attorney pointing out the weakness early and often and in addition to being able to show you are completing classes and taking your situation seriously can be a huge benefit to you. Short of having your case dismissed, the goal of most attorneys will be to get the prosecutor to agree to a Reckless Driving disposition. A Reckless Driving plea often requires some if not all of the punishments a DUI conviction would bring, including probation, DUI school, victim impact panel, community service and a fine, however, you will be spared a criminal conviction and have the opportunity to have your record sealed (a DUI conviction can never be sealed).
You can find a more detailed description of DUI penalties by clicking the link here.
What A Jacksonville Florida DUI Attorney Can Do For You
The right attorney should work hard at trying to resolve the case and provide the prosecutor with every reason to agree, including military history, employment issues, medical issues, completion of treatment, letters from family and friends and providing the prosector a picture of who you really are. You are much more than person who got arrested for a DUI, you have a story and a life and it is important the prosecutor learns about you. I have my clients write me a story about themselves, there childhood, growing up, education, employment, family, feelings about the arrest and what their dreams are for the future.
No attorney can guarantee an outcome, and anyone who does, you should run away from as fast as you can. A prosecutor will not always agree with the way we think a case should be resolved. If an accident is involved or there was a very high breath sample, the prosector may only agree to not add any enhancements to the DUI penalties (including having to install an interlock device in your car), but still want you to plea to a DUI. This of course leaves you with a permanent criminal record. It will be your decision whether you take the best offer from the State or choose to take your case to trial.
If You Have Questions Regarding a DUI or Any Other Criminal Matter
Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883.