What Is the Progression of a DUI Case in the Court System?

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
January 21, 2021

Being unaware of what the future holds can make anyone feel uneasy, especially if you’re confronted with a charge for driving under the influence (DUI). If you’re arrested for DUI in Southeast Pennsylvania, you probably have many questions regarding what you may expect and how to prepare for it. You have to consider the implications of having a mark on your criminal record and the impending court process.

A DUI is undoubtedly a severe charge in Pennsylvania. However, learning the process of a DUI case as it goes through the court system can help ease your fears of the unknown. The progression of a DUI case through Pennsylvania’s court system follows a standard set of measures. Your circumstances may vary slightly from the standard, of course, but there are some things you can realistically anticipate happening.

1.   Traffic Stop and Arrest

Every Pennsylvania DUI case begins with a traffic stop or event where a law enforcement officer interacts with you about suspected drunk driving or other reasons. At this point, the police officer may request that you perform a series of field sobriety tests. Note that these tests are potentially incriminating but generally voluntary. Even if the police officer fails to tell you that you have the right to refuse—you do not have to perform them.  The police will also request that you provide a blood or breath test.  You also have the right to refuse these tests, HOWEVER in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, your driver’s license will be suspended for 1 year if you refuse breath/blood testing.

Based on the officer’s reasonable belief and the traffic stop circumstances, you are then placed under arrest and taken to the local jail or police station for further questioning.

2.   Release on Bail until Your Court Appearance

In most cases, you’ll be allowed release from detention. You may be brought before an on-call Magisterial District Justice to find out how much it will take to attain freedom to go home. If you or someone else posts your bail, you are legally required to show up for any future court appearances and abide by the legal instructions passed down by a judge. In the alternative, and far more frequently, you will be released by the police into the custody of a responsible adult, and will receive your criminal charges via summons in the mail. This will include the date for your first court date, known as a Preliminary Hearing. Should you fail to show up on your court date, a bench warrant for your arrest will be issued. At that point, you forfeit any right to bail once police take you into custody.

3.   Preliminary Hearing

Your first court hearing after a DUI arrest is the preliminary hearing, which will be presided over by a local district justice. During this hearing, the judge reviews the facts of your case, including the arresting officer’s report of what you allegedly did and said that led to your arrest.

It is essential to have a qualified DUI attorney representing you at this hearing because it is the first opportunity to hear the evidence that will be held against you.

4.   Arraignment Hearing

After your preliminary hearing, an arraignment hearing will be scheduled about one to two months later. During the arraignment, you will be informed of your legal rights and hear the formal charges the state is pressing against you.

Your DUI lawyer may decide to waive the arraignment, in which case you would not have to attend. However, it’s critical that you discuss this with your lawyer before presuming your attendance isn’t required and skipping the hearing. During the arraignment, you may plead guilty or not guilty of the DUI charge. If you plead guilty, the next step of the process is the sentencing hearing. If you plead not guilty, your case moves forward to trial.

5.   Motion Hearing and Trial

After pleading not guilty, you’ll be notified of a trial date (or a pre-trial conference date in Montgomery County). However, you may have a motion hearing leading up to the trial. At your motion hearing, your lawyer may submit evidence demonstrating that either you were unjustly arrested or the trial should not continue for another reason.

Your lawyer may also use the opportunity to make a plea deal with the prosecution. These agreements are encouraged due to the fact that it lightens the court’s caseload. If your case isn’t resolved at the motion hearing, it moves to trial.

6.   Trial Hearing

During the trial, you’ll have the opportunity to defend yourself against the evidence presented by the prosecution. Before the trial begins, you and your lawyer should have several consultations regarding your defense strategy in great detail, so you’ll know what to expect.

After both sides have presented their evidence and stated their case, the judge or jury will deliberate regarding what they heard. If you’re found not guilty, you walk away from experience, never having to worry about it impacting your future again. If you’re found guilty, you’ll have to attend a sentencing hearing scheduled at a later time. Note that for many DUIs in Pennsylvania, there is no right to a jury trial, and the case is decided only by a judge.   

Altogether, the process typically takes about six months from the DUI arrest to the trial’s end. However, keep in mind that certain factors may shorten or prolong the time it takes to conclude a DUI case. Consult a knowledgeable DUI attorney to discover what the progression and timeline may look like in your particular case.

Consult an Experienced DUI Lawyer in Montgomery County, PA Today

If you were arrested or charged with a DUI in Southeast Pennsylvania, the repercussions of a conviction could be damaging, leaving you with a permanent criminal record and possible jail time. For that reason, you need to speak with a qualified DUI defense attorney as soon as possible about your case. If it’s your first offense, you may be eligible for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD), where there’s a chance of returning to a clean record.

The attorneys at Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C. have successfully helped clients obtain acquittals and favorable outcomes in their DUI cases across Southeastern Pennsylvania. To speak with an accomplished DUI defense attorney over a free case review, complete a contact form or call at (215) 822-7575.

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
Pennsylvania Attorney's
January 21, 2021
Established in 1952 by Irwin S. Rubin, Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C. boasts over 65 years of experience serving clients throughout Pennsylvania. Renowned for its commitment to ethical representation, the firm has garnered prestigious accolades, including being named the "Best Law Firm" for its outstanding legal defense work by U.S. News & World Report. Their team of seasoned attorneys, recognized as Pennsylvania Super Lawyers and Rising Stars, brings unparalleled expertise to a wide range of legal matters, ensuring exceptional representation for individuals, families, businesses, and organizations.