Criminal Process

Orange County DUI – Criminal Court Process


Recall that a drunk driving arrest generates two separate cases – in court, and at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  A California attorney with experience defending drinking and driving cases can help drivers navigate through both the DMV hearing and the court case.

When police observe signs of intoxication in the driver’s physical appearance and/or erratic driving patterns, these observations form the basis of “probable cause,” which is the legal basis for the arrest.  Once arrested, a driver may be held in custody and must post bond to be released, unless released on his or her own recognizance, or OR.  Bond, otherwise known as bail, is like an insurance policy guaranteeing the driver’s appearance at the next court date.  The amount of bail is determined by a judge, based on the seriousness of the offense.

If held in custody, a driver must be arraigned within 48 to 72 hours after the arrest, unless it occurred on a weekend, in which case it can be extended for one day.  If the driver is not held in custody, the arraignment will be set at a later date.

At the arraignment, the judge will advise the driver of the pending charges, and the individual will be read his or her rights.  A driver will be asked to enter a plea before the court.  Possible pleas include not guilty, nolo contendere – commonly known as no contest – or guilty.

At some point, a prosecutor may offer the driver a plea bargain, which gives the defendant an opportunity to plead guilty to a lesser charge.  Sometimes taking a plea bargain is a good idea, while sometimes it’s not.  An experienced DUI/DWI lawyer can evaluate an individual case to determine whether a plea bargain is a good deal.

The final stage of the court process is the trial.  Once a trial date is set, it is usually expressed as a “0 of 10 date” meaning that the DUI defendant’s speedy trial rights will not be violated if the trial begins on the trial date, or within 10 days of that date.  If the trial does not begin on or before the expiration of the last day for trial, the case must be dismissed.  If the last day for trial falls on a weekend day or holiday, the next court day is the last day.

A jury trial will last several days.  At the end of the trial, a jury will either render a guilty verdict, a verdict of not guilty, or, if the jury cannot agree, the jury may be considered “hung.”

Although our justice system is designed to protect both the defendant and the public, the defendant needs someone looking after his or her best interests.  An attorney who specializes in defending DUI cases can ensure that anyone accused of drunk driving receives the fairest treatment possible in the court system.