DWI Court Procedure
Guiding You Through The Courthouse, One Step At A Time
Once someone is arrested for DWI, they will be given a court date. This court date will be the first of several potential hearings as part of the criminal DWI case (which is different than the civil, Implied Consent case -- if you need a refresher on the difference between the two, check out our overview of Minnesota's DWI process).
The State's goal in the criminal case is to overcome the presumption that you are innocent and earn the right to punish you with things like jail, fines, probation, and chemical dependency treatment programs. Because the only way to overcome that presumption of innocence is in a courtroom, we'll end up going to court several times in order to get the result we want. On average, a client of Ramsay Law Firm will join us in court 2-4 times, although more (and occationally less) appearances happen in certain cases. Here's what types of appearances you can expect:
Appearance #1: Arraignment
Also known as a first appearance, the arraignment is a hearing designed to 1) advise you what you are charged with, 2) advise you of what your rights are, and 3) set the conditions that you have to meet to be released from custody. How this hearing is handled varies widely depending on the level of DWI offense you are charged with and the county that you were arrested in. Sometimes, the judge will simply release with with a promise to appear at your next scheduled court date; other times, the judge may impose the maximum allowable bail in a DWI case. And in some cases, we can actually waive the need for you to even appear at your arraignment.
Generally, when you're a client of Ramsay Law Firm, you won't say much of anything at your arraignment -- we'll do all the talking. We won't be in front of the judge for very long, either. We'll try to negotiate with the prosecutor, but at this point in the case we may not even have all the information we need to effectively negotiate (such as all of the police reports, squad video, audio/video from the police station, lab reports, witness statements, etc.). What typically happens is that we coordinate a new court date, the "pre-trial" or "omnibus" hearing.
Appearance #2: Pre-Trial
Depending on the level of DWI you are charged with (and also depending on the county you were arrested in) the next appearance will likely be a "pre-trial" or an "omnibus" hearing. The purpose of this hearing is much more simple and direct: negotiation. At this point, we've crafted our defenses, know where the State's case is strong, and where it is weak, and can engage in meaningful negotiations.
The case may resolve at this stage; this is where we negotiate the best deal we can for our clients, and then discuss whether or not the deal is good enough. But the final decision on whether or not to take a deal always belongs to our clients, not us. We could negotiate a fantastic deal, and advise you to take it. If you say "no," we just push up our sleeves and get ready to get back into the ring. On the other hand, we could negotiate a "meh" kind of deal, and advise you that it's just not worth it . . . but if you're ready to be done, or are satisfied with the outcome, we're not going to push you to go to trial. We're going to follow your wishes and resolve the case.
Assuming that the best negotiated deal just isn't good enough, we'll appear in front of the judge (and, again, do all of the talking for you) and set another court date. In the overwhelming majority of our cases, the next step is an evidence suppression hearing.
Appearance #3: Contested Omnibus Hearing
A suppression hearing has a variety of names, but is most commonly referred to as a "contested omnibus hearing." This is where we get a lot of our good results -- motions to suppress evidence can break even the strongest DWI case. This is where we can raise legal challenges (like the constitutionality of the stop of your vehicle) as well as scientific challenges (such as the validity, reliability, and accuracy of your breath test). And at the same time, we're still negotiating with the prosecutor, using all our leverage to continue to try and get the best deal possible.
These hearings often (but not always) require live testimony, from the arresting officers, the individuals who administered tests, and/or from laboratory experts and forensic scientists. You, as the defendant, may be asked to testify, but that's very, very rare -- you have the right to remain silent, and it's almost always best to continue to use that right and let us do all the talking. It sounds stressful (and it is!) but it's also the best way to get a good result for our clients, something we've learned over the past few decades worth of DWI defense.
After the hearing, the judge will issue an order. If the judge grants our motions, the entire DWI case may be dismissed. Other times, just some evidence, and some charges, will be dismissed. If the judge's order does not completely dismiss the case, we'll move forward to the last step in any criminal case -- trial.
Appearance #4: Jury Trial
Not every DWI case goes to trial -- in fact, most cases don't. But sometimes, the only way to get a good result in a DWI case is to take it through a trial. It's our favorite part of being a lawyer, and we always do our best to prepare our clients and put them at ease well before the day comes that we are selecting a jury.
At trial, the State bears the burden of proving guilt, and they not only have to do it "beyond a reasonable doubt," but they also have to get a unanimous verdict -- all the jurors need to agreed that the State proved their case before anyone can be found guilty. This is the highest burden that exists in our criminal justice system, a burden that was designed to minimize the risk of convicting an innocent person (even at the risk of letting many otherwise guilty people go free). A jury trial is the cornerstone of our criminal justice system, put in place by our founding fathers as a final check against the power of the State to impose criminal punishments on its citizens.
Not many attorneys are good at handling trials: we are. If your case goes all the way to trial, and the jury votes "not guilty," the case is over. That means no conviction on your record, no chance of having to go to jail, no supervised probation or court-ordered treatment. It's the ultimate form of a "good result."