California DUI Court Process


No one is ever prepared to be charged with driving under the influence (DUI). Once you are charged and arrested, it can be a very confusing process, especially if it is your first time. The criminal courtroom is a complex legal arena with a number of moving parts, with players who seem to understand the game while you stand on the sidelines. While you may not know everything, understanding the San Diego DUI court process can be extremely helpful when you’ve been charged. A DUI defense lawyer can help you understand this complex process.

What Happens When You Get a DUI?

DUI cases will start with the police officer pulling you over for a traffic violation, a defect on your car, or at the scene of an accident. Generally, the police officer will suspect that you are under the influence and you will be subjected to roadside field sobriety test or preliminary breath test. If you fail the test, you may be arrested for DUI.

After being arrested, the police officer will proceed to make the arrangements for administration of chemical testing. This can include a breath, urine, or blood test. Depending on the blood alcohol content (BAC) after testing, you may face additional charges.

In addition to the required chemical testing, your driver’s license will also be confiscated. Since all convictions for DUI result in the suspension or revocation of your license, the police officer will take it and give you a temporary license, until the conviction-related suspension is in force. You will be informed that the license will be suspended within 30 days.

Once all the testing is completed and your license confiscated, you will be booked. The police are required to complete the necessary paperwork relating to your charge. Depending on the circumstances of your case and criminal history, you will be released with or without the need to post bail.

The DMV Process

The process of your license being suspended is separate from the court proceedings in relation to your DUI charge. Oftentimes, individuals charged with a DUI assume that the two processes are the same or that the DMV hearing only comes after the completion of the criminal matter relating to their charge.

All things being equal, your license will be suspended within 30 days of being arrested. The DMV standard of proof in making this determination is lower than a criminal court and they can make this decision in your absence. To protect your driving privileges and to secure your right to be heard, you must request a hearing within 10 days of being arrested.

At your hearing, you will have the right to cross-examine the police officer. This is an excellent opportunity to “try” your case. The outcome of the DMV hearing can help with charge reduction or dismissal. It is important to retain the services of a lawyer who will vigorously make arguments on your behalf at the DMV hearing and who is experienced in DUI negotiations.

Your Arraignment

Even if you are successful at your DMV hearing, as long as your charges have not been dismissed, you will be required to face the court to answer to the charge of DUI. The first step in that court process is referred to as an arraignment.

The arraignment is critical to the entire San Diego DUI court process. At the arraignment, the prosecution may extend an offer to you. This offer is the likely penalty he or she will pursue should you decide to plead guilty. It is at this time that many individuals charged with DUI and who are innocent end up making the wrong decision. It is critical that you have an attorney there with you who will be able to advise you on the consequences of pleading guilty.

If you plead guilty, your matter will proceed to the sentencing phase. However, if you plead not guilty, your case will proceed to the pre-trial phase.

What Happens at the Pre-Trial?

At this stage in the San Diego DUI court process, if you have not hired a lawyer, you will definitely need one. This is a very important stage since it will involve a lot of research and investigation into the prosecution’s case. This can take up a lot of time, but can result in a charge dismissal or a reduction when you have an experienced lawyer by your side.

During the pre-trial process, your attorney will be in a position to assess the prosecution’s case against you. The law allows for pre-trial motions that can significantly affect your case. These legal motions seek to discredit the case of the prosecution and obtain valuable information that can be used in the future. Additionally, this is another opportunity for plea negotiations or to request the dismissal of your charges.

The Trial

Most DUI cases are settled before trial. However, if your lawyer was not able to secure a favorable outcome at the arraignment or pre-trial stage, your case will proceed to trial. A trial will consist of the following elements:

  • The selection of a jury
  • Statements from the prosecution and your lawyer to open the case
  • The presentation of the prosecution’s case against you
  • The opportunity to present a defense
  • Statements from both sides to close the case
  • A verdict

If you are found not guilty, you will walk out of the courtroom and put the horrible ordeal behind you. However, a guilty verdict will extend the court process to include sentencing.

Contact An Experienced San Diego DUI Lawyer

For years, McElfresh Law has successfully represented individuals charged with various types of crimes in California. We are focused on providing high-quality criminal defense representation using our experience and extensive knowledge of the law and the system. At McElfresh Law, we fully understand the San Diego DUI court process and will keep you informed along the way.

If you are charged with any DUI-related offense, the time to get a lawyer is now. Call McElfresh Law at (858) 756-7107 to learn how we can help.