When a person is charged for driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while ability impaired (DWAI) for alcohol, drugs, or marijuana or a combination of alcohol, drugs, or marijuana they will be given a court date for an initial court appearance. The initial court appearance is the beginning of which will likely consist of several court appearances. It is important not to miss any court date unless the defendant has hired an attorney and that attorney expressly informs the defendant that they do not need to appear. If a person misses any court date and is not otherwise represented by an attorney an arrest warrant will be issued against that person.
Arraignment: The ticket issued by the police officer will indicate when the initial court date is including the date, time, and location. The defendant will be advised of the charges, possible penalties, and constitutional rights that are afforded to every person charged with a crime. This may be done directly from a judge or in the form of a video advisement. Depending on the specific court procedure, this arraignment date may simply be reset after the advisement or it may also serve as a pre-trial conference in which the defendant or defendant’s attorney may elect to discuss the case with prosecutor or deputy district attorney. Also, in some jurisdictions the defendant’s appearance may be waived if represented by an attorney.
Pre-Trial Conference: A pre-trial conference is an opportunity to resolve the case without setting the case for trial. Generally the discovery (police reports, witness and defendant statements, chemical results, and other evidence) is not available at or prior to the arraignment. A defense attorney will usually have a chance to gather the discovery and review the discovery, evidence, statutes, mitigating and aggravating issues, and client’s version of the alleged offense prior to this date. This gives the defense attorney an opportunity to have a meaningful discussion with the prosecuting attorney. There may be a few pre-trial conferences before the parties can work out an acceptable plea agreement or set the case for trial.
Disposition Hearing: A disposition hearing is a form or variation of a pre-trial conference. If the district attorney and the defendant or defense attorney can reach a plea agreement during the arraignment, at a pre-trial conference, or in between hearings, the case may proceed to a dispositional hearing or another pre-trial conference. Depending on the jurisdiction in Colorado, the judge may accept a plea and continue the case for sentencing, or go directly to sentencing. In many jurisdictions the judge may require additional information through an evaluation or probation office, then proceed to sentencing. If an agreement is not reached a motions date (if requested) pre-trial date, and trial date is likely to be set.
Motions: A motions date is designed to allow either side to file motions to receive rulings from the judge prior to trial. If the district attorney of defense lawyer believe that there are legal issues that need to be resolved prior to trial, the party can timely file motions with the court and provide the other side with a copy. At the motions hearing the prosecutor and defense can argue their position. Common motions are motions to suppress evidence or motions to limit evidence. The judge will make decisions in light most favorable to the prosecution.
Trial readiness date: Some jurisdictions offer a trial readiness date, which is basically another pre-trail conference just prior to trial. If a trial readiness date is granted the prosecutor or defense lawyer can bring up any last minute issues in an attempt to resolve prior to trial. If either side needs a continuance a request can be made to the court. For good cause, a continuance may be granted. If there is discovery that has not been disclosed the prosecution or defense may bring up this fact.
Trial: A defendant has a choice between a jury trial or a trial to the judge. In most cases, defense attorneys recommend that the defendant select a trial by jury. A trial by jury consists of 6 jurors that must determine a person is guilty whereas a trial to the judge rests on the verdict of just the judge.
- Voir Dire: Voir dire is jury selection where each juror has provided a disclosure of a questionnaire that basically provides some general information about them. In addition, both the prosecutor and defense lawyer have an opportunity to discuss legal principals and ask general questions to the potential members of the jury.
- Opening: Both the prosecution and defense have an opportunity to tell the jury or judge what they believe the case is about, what the facts may show, and other general information about the case the jury is about to hear.
- Prosecutor’s case: Since the burden of proof is on the prosecutor, the prosecutor puts on their case first. They will call varies witnesses in the case and ask direct questions and attempt to introduce certain evidence. The defense then has an opportunity to cross-exam the prosecution’s witnesses.
- Defense case: Due to the presumption of innocence and the prosecution having the burden of evidence, the defense is not required to call nay witnesses in the case. However, often a defense lawyer will call witnesses and provide evidence to the jury or judge.
- Closing: Each side has an opportunity to discuss the case, what evidence was presented and ask the jury or judge to return a verdict of guilty or not guilty.
- Jury Instructions: Jury instructions are a set of rules under the law that the jury is instructed to follow, basically the rules they must use in making a determination of guilt or innocence. Although the prosecution and defense may submit jury instructions, the judge will ultimately decide what instructions are submitted to the jury.
- Jury Deliberations: The jury will then be brought into a jury room where the members of the jury can discuss the case, facts, credibility of the witnesses and other evidence. The jury will determine if the defendant is guilty or not. A guilty verdict must be unanimous.
Sentencing: If the defendant accepts a plea of guilty or is found guilty by a judge or jury, the last court date is sentencing. Sentencing can occur when a plea is entered, after an evaluation, at the end of a trial with a guilty verdict, or be set out for a sentencing court date. At sentencing both the prosecution attorney, defendant, or defense attorney can provide information to the court to assist the judge in making a sentencing determination.