How Often Do DUI Cases Actually Go To Trial?
DUI cases go to trial approximately 10 to 15% of the time.
Do Most DUI Attorneys Avoid Taking A DUI Case To Trial?
Attorneys always want to avoid going to trial if they can get the results you’re looking for some other way. Ultimately, if someone comes into my office soon after they were arrested for a DUI, and they have the basic documents that they’re going to need—the tickets, next court date documents, what type of bond they’re on, and then the sworn law enforcement report—this gives attorneys’ some basic ideas about why the police believed that the client was under the influence of alcohol when they were arrested. Many times, attorneys don’t have a good sense about a case until they get a copy of the entire discovery, and all the evidence, such as police reports, videos, and the officer’s statements. This occurs on the first, if not the second, court date that we show up in court for.
At that point in time, an attorney will know exactly what the evidence is against their client, and then they can talk to their client to figure out their version of the events, and how good or how bad the case is. Going into every single case, you have an objective that you’re looking for, which depends on the severity of the case, a person’s criminal background, or how many DUIs they’ve had in the past. An attorney will take this into consideration, along with the evidence the prosecutor would present in front of a judge or a jury. We try to figure out what our objective is going to be—the objective for a first time DUI individual is completely different than the objective for a third or fourth time DUI individual.
Attorneys always want to get the objective they’re looking for before going to trial, because if you go to trial and you lose, there can be significant ramifications. If an attorney was able to work it out with the prosecutor before the trial, and negotiate the case and achieve their objective, that’s a guarantee. Going to trial, there are no guarantees. You’re essentially rolling a dice.
What Factors Do You Consider When Determining Whether To Take A Case To Trial Or Not?
There are several factors that I consider when determining whether or not to take a case to trial. If the client has minimal criminal background, then I don’t have to worry about this being an issue at trial. If we have a very good fact pattern, I am looking for a dismissal of the charges. If I have a very poor fact pattern, I am looking for the best negotiation I can get.
But generally speaking, putting aside a person’s criminal or DUI background, I usually break a DUI into five separate areas, to determine whether or not the state has a good case. Ultimately the state has to prove my client guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The five parts of the DUI that I look at is first, the driving itself. What type of, if any, bad driving led to my client being pulled over? The second thing I look at is visuals. When the officer approaches my client and asks him or her questions, he is looking at their eyes, he is smelling their breath, he is looking at whether or not they can follow orders or commands fluidly, whether they can walk once they are asked to get at the vehicle, whether they can walk in a proper fashion without whining on the vehicle for support or staggering.
The third area is whether or not my client made any type of statements whatsoever, any admissions such as “I’ve been drinking all night, I had a quarter Jack Daniels”, or whether my client was silent or for that matter said that “I only had a beer or two this entire night.” In Illinois, you are able and legally in a position to drink and drive. You can have a beer and go and drive. You’ll smell like alcohol, but it doesn’t mean you’re under the influence of alcohol. You cannot be under the influence of alcohol in Illinois, but it is legal to drink and then drive your automobile as long as you’re not under the influence. So the third thing I’m looking at is what type of statements, if any, my client made.
The fourth thing I then look at is how my client performed in a field sobriety test, because almost all the time prior to a person being placed under arrest, the officer is going to give an individual a Standardized Field Sobriety test. This is to see whether or not in the officer’s opinion my client should be placed under arrest. The last aspect or the fifth part of the DUI that I look at is whether or not an individual blows into the machine at the station. In Illinois, if you below above a 0.08, you are presumed to be under the influence of alcohol. If you blow between a 0.06 and a 0.08, there is no presumption whether you’re drunk or not, and blow under a 0.06, the presumption is you’re not under the influence of alcohol.
So I look at all five aspects and then, based on my experience and expertise, I make a decision of how good or how bad this case is for my client. Once I make that determination, I talk with my client and give him my advice. Then I reach out to the prosecutor to try and either negotiate this case, if that is what I feel is in the best interest of the client, or play hardball. Since the state must prove guilt without a shadow of doubt, we can tell the prosecutor that we’re open to an offer if I don’t think they can meet their burden of proof. We’re never going to say don’t give us an offer but, if it’s not a very good offer, based on the facts of the case, we then take a case like that to trial. A good defense attorney is not going to take a bad case to trial, and a good prosecutor is not going to take a bad case to trial either, from their perspective. So it’s usually the cases that are somewhere in the middle, that are a toss-up, those are the cases that usually go to trial especially if a person is a second or a third time DUI offender.
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