Have you been charged with driving under the influence in Bucks County? Are you concerned about what to expect at the preliminary hearing in your case? Read this blog post to become more informed about the preliminary hearing court process and develop a plan to successfully resolve your DUI case.
Hire an Experienced Bucks County DUI Lawyer Before Your Hearing
It is extremely risky to try to represent yourself at a preliminary hearing for a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance (DUI). At a preliminary hearing for DUI, you need to understand the rules of evidence, court procedures and proper evidentiary motions.
It is also essential for someone facing a DUI charge to be familiar with state and local police officers, district judges and Bucks County prosecutors. Unfortunately, most people do not have the background and experience required to represent themselves in a DUI matter competently. Making the wrong decision with your case can have disastrous consequences.
Therefore, you must hire an experienced local DUI attorney once you are under investigation or charged with DUI. In many cases, a knowledgeable DUI attorney can make the difference between a dismissal or reduction of the charges and a conviction.
What is the Purpose of a Preliminary Hearing for DUI?
At the preliminary hearing, the district judge determines if the police or prosecutor has presented sufficient evidence for the DUI charges to proceed to the next stage of the case in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas. However, it is not the responsibility of the district judge to determine your guilt or declare your innocence during the preliminary hearing phase of your DUI case. Under the Pennsylvania Criminal Procedure Rules, the district judge must decide whether the police or prosecutor has established prima facie evidence of DUI at the preliminary hearing. Prima facie evidence of DUI is established when the government presents evidence that:
- It is more likely than not that a DUI offense was committed; and
- It is more likely than not you committed the DUI crime.
What is Prima Facie Evidence?
Prima facie evidence translates roughly to evidence “on its face.” However, establishing prima facie evidence at a preliminary hearing is not the same as proving that you are guilty of DUI. The legal standard for proving your guilt for a DUI is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard is a much higher standard than the prima facie standard used at a preliminary hearing. A finding of prima facie evidence of the crime of DUI at the preliminary hearing does not automatically mean that you will be convicted of DUI.
Witness Credibility is Not a Factor at the DUI Preliminary Hearing
Unlike a judge or jury in a criminal trial, the district court judge is not permitted to consider the credibility of witnesses who testify at a DUI preliminary hearing. It is not unusual for a preliminary hearing witness to slant their testimony or otherwise provide untruthful statements under oath during the proceeding. Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure do not allow the district court judge to determine if a witness is telling the truth on the witness stand. However, a skilled DUI defense attorney can establish the foundation for a successful DUI trial defense by exposing a witnesses’ bias or untruthfulness during the preliminary hearing.
Determine if You Qualify for ARD for Your DUI Case
Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) is a pre-trial diversion program available to most first-offense DUI offenders in Bucks County. The Bucks County District Attorney’s Office requires that applicants for ARD waive their right to a preliminary hearing in exchange for being considered for the program. ARD applicants must submit a formal application to the district judge on the date of their preliminary hearing. Completing the ARD program successfully will result in the dismissal and expungement of your DUI criminal record. In many cases, entry into the ARD pre-trial diversion program offers the best resolution of the DUI case.
ARD Disqualifying Factors
- The Bucks County District Attorney’s Office will not consider your case for ARD admission under any of the following circumstances:
- You did not possess a valid license, registration or insurance at the time of your arrest, or
- You had a passenger in the vehicle under the age of 14 at the time of your arrest; or
- Your DUI incident resulted in the death or serious bodily injury of another person; or
- You have criminal record for a misdemeanor of felony conviction.
In certain cases, an attorney may reach an agreement with the prosecutor at the preliminary hearing to withdrawal a disqualifying offense.
When to Request a Dismissal of the DUI Charges at the Preliminary Hearing
The police and prosecutor are expected to have their evidence and witnesses available on the date of your preliminary hearing. Your lawyer should request a dismissal of the DUI case at the preliminary hearing under the following circumstances:
- The arresting officer fails to appear for the preliminary hearing
- The arresting officer does not bring the lab report for chemical testing to the preliminary hearing
- The police use a non-approved laboratory for chemical testing for DUI
- The police officer who conducted the breathalyzer test is not certified to perform the analysis
- The breathalyzer device used for blood alcohol (BAC) testing was not certified for accuracy
Develop Your DUI Trial Defense at the Preliminary Hearing
Conducting a preliminary hearing can help in building a successful legal defense against a DUI charge. The preliminary hearing process allows you, through your attorney, to test the strength or weakness of the prosecutor’s witnesses through aggressive cross-examination.
During the preliminary hearing, witnesses will often change their version of events and add additional facts that are contradicted by the evidence. These inconsistencies and falsehoods can be highlighted by a defense lawyer during a DUI trial to prove that the witnesses’ testimony is unreliable.
The preliminary hearing also provides you with the opportunity cross-examine the arresting police officer about the circumstances leading Did the police follow up to your DUI arrest. These areas of questioning may include:
- Did the police have a legal basis to pull you over?
- Did the police follow proper procedures in conducting field sobriety testing?
- Did the police have probable cause to arrest you for DUI?
- Did the police conduct the blood draw or breathalyzer test according to state regulations?
Under proper questioning, the arresting officer will often concede facts about the DUI vehicle stop and arrest that a defense attorney can use to get the evidence suppressed or to gain an acquittal of the charges.
It is important to be fully educated about the preliminary hearing court process if you are charged with DUI. You will need to decide on a legal strategy prior to the preliminary hearing. Some cases can be successfully resolved through an aggressive defense before a jury or a judge. Other cases can be diverted into a first-offender program to avoid a criminal record.
Contact an Experienced Bucks County DUI Lawyer
I have over a decade of experience providing skilled representation to individuals charged with DUI in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Phone lines are open 24 hours a day at (215) 752-5282. Appointments are available after business hours and on weekends. Call today for a free consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response.