When you’re charged with OVI / DUI in Ohio — particularly when it’s your first offense — the DUI court process may seem both overwhelming and confusing. You’ve been through the stress and anxiety of getting pulled over and arrested, and getting booked at a police station or jail. Now your case starts to work its way through the court system. You likely have a lot of questions about how the process works and what’s going to happen to you.
This page provides an overview of how the court process works in Ohio to help you gain some understanding of what expect. However, an experienced Ohio OVI / DUI defense lawyer will be the best person to answer specific questions about your individual case.
The first step in the court process is called an arraignment. This is the first time you have to appear in court, and is the time when you typically enter a plea to your OVI / DUI charge. However, you also may have the option to continue your arraignment and enter a plea at a later date.
In Ohio, your arraignment should happen within 5 days after your arrest for OVI / DUI because part of what happens at your arraignment is that your license suspension will be addressed. That may not have been enough time for you to conduct a proper search for a defense lawyer and for your lawyer to prepare you to enter a plea. A continuance may be appropriate if you need more time to find a lawyer, to weigh your plea options, or for your attorney to review the facts and evidence in your case.
If you choose to go ahead and enter a plea rather than seek a continuance, your plea options include:
- Not Guilty — You’re saying you did not commit the offense
- No Contest — You admit the facts but not your guilt, or in other words you say you’re innocent but acknowledge that you are unlikely to be found not guilty if your case goes to trial
- Guilty — You admit to the offense
If you’re uncertain how to plead, a qualified Cincinnati OVI / DUI lawyer can explain your options and advise you which plea to consider.
If you plead “not guilty,” then activity starts toward your eventual trial or other resolution to your case. Some of that activity includes:
- Driver’s License Suspension — First, your OVI / DUI lawyer is likely to tackle your driver’s license suspension and try to get a stay of your suspension or get you limited driving privileges, such as to drive to school or work.
- Discovery — Discovery is the process of exchanging evidence in a case. At the arraignment, your defense lawyer should make a request to the prosecutor for all of the evidence in your case, such as your breath or blood test results, witness statements, police reports, photos or videos, or any other evidence being used against you.
- Resolution — Your lawyer may try to get your case resolved at the arraignment without going any further in court. That may include trying to convince a prosecutor to withdraw the charge or a judge or magistrate to dismiss the charge if the evidence is weak.
If you plead “no contest” and your OVI charge is a misdemeanor, the judge or magistrate in your case will listen to an explanation of the circumstances of your charge and enter a finding of either guilty or not guilty. However, it’s relatively unusual for a judge to enter a finding of not guilty after a no contest plea unless there’s some kind of mistake made by the prosecutor.
If you plead or are found guilty, then your case moves on to the sentencing phase. Typically, you are sentenced at a later court date.
The pretrial hearing is the next phase if you entered a not guilty plea. Pretrial is when the work of moving the case along to trial begins, and when your lawyer starts to put your defense strategy into play. During a pretrial hearing, your lawyer may file motions seeking to exclude or suppress evidence such as your blood or breath test results or statements you made to police, or to challenge the basis for your arrest.
It’s also the time when your defense lawyer may start negotiations with a prosecutor to try to get your case dismissed or your charge or penalties reduced after having reviewed the evidence provided through discovery. If your lawyer already has reached an agreement with the prosecutor, the pretrial is when that offer might be presented to a judge or magistrate for approval and resolution of your case.
When there are flaws in the process of collecting, processing, or storing evidence, your rights may have been violated and your lawyer may ask a judge to keep that evidence from being used against you in court through a motion to suppress the evidence. In a drunk driving case, that might include suppressing:
- The results of field sobriety tests or chemical tests if they were improperly administered or analyzed
- Statements you made in police custody if you weren’t properly advised of your rights
- Any evidence obtained through an improper search or seizure
If your lawyer asks a court to suppress evidence in your case, there typically will be a special hearing on that request. During the hearing, evidence and arguments are presented by your lawyer in favor of the motion to suppress, and by the prosecutor opposing the motion. A judge may make a decision on the spot, or at a later date.
If your lawyer is successful in getting evidence suppressed, that may turn the tide in your case and result in a dismissal or a greater willingness by the prosecutor to negotiate a resolution in your favor.
Trial is the culmination of the court process. Once all of the evidence has been exchanged and the court has considered motions regarding the evidence, and if the case hasn’t already been resolved through negotiations, then the case proceeds to trial.
Under the Constitution, you have the right to have your case go to trial. While it may benefit you to resolve your case through negotiations, there is no requirement that you do so. You have a right to a trial, and to have your trial considered by a jury.
The steps in a trial include:
- Jury selection — The process of selecting the people who will consider the evidence in your case. Potential jurors are asked questions through a process called voir dire so that jurors who might be biased can be weeded out.
- Opening statements — The prosecutor and your lawyer each present to the jury their version of the events in your case and a preview of the evidence that will be presented.
- Evidence phase — The prosecutor and your defense lawyer will question witnesses under oath and present evidence to prove their cases. The prosecutor has the burden of proving your guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Technically, you have no burden to prove your innocence or to present a defense at all, but a skilled OVI / DUI defense lawyer usually will present testimony and evidence that demonstrates the weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case.
- Closing arguments — The prosecutor and your defense lawyer summarize the testimony and evidence presented and explain to the jury how it supports each of their cases.
- Deliberations — The jury goes behind closed doors to consider the evidence and decide whether or not the prosecutor has proved that you are guilty. In order to convict you, all of the jurors must agree to your guilt.
- Verdict — The jury comes back into court and publicly tells the court whether you have been found guilty or not guilty.
- Sentencing — If you were found guilty, your case will proceed to sentencing, typically at a later date set by the court.
Facing a DUI? Contact Cincinnati OVI Lawyer Brad Groene.
If you have been pulled over for an OVI and are going to DUI court, you’re likely stressed, angry, and worried about your future. The best thing to do is to call an experienced Cincinnati DUI lawyer who can walk you through your legal options and begin building a defense to reduce the penalties you face. Get the justice you deserve. Don’t hesitate to contact us today at (513) 338-1890 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.