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Pittsburgh DUI Handbook

Attorney Paletta, The Solution To Your DUI Problem

You have a DUI. Now what?

It’s starting to sink in: you have been arrested for DUI and don’t know what lies ahead. It can be a pretty unsettling feeling. To help you, I have put together a guide discussing the legal process that follows an arrest for DUI.

“Good People Can Make Bad Decisions. An Arrest Does Not Automatically Mean You Will Be Convicted.”

“Talk to an experienced and qualified DUI Defense Attorney immediately. Be very careful when you hiring your attorney. Do not confuse an inexperienced lawyer who advertises himself instead of defending you.”

You can call me right now at 412-391-7999. I am an Attorney with over 25 years of DUI Defense experience.

Knowledge is Power

The goal of this DUI Guide is to put you more at ease by helping you understand the process you will be going through as a consequence of your arrest for DUI. In particular, this DUI Guide will walk you through the process from arrest to first court hearing, the Preliminary Hearing, the trial, and sentencing, through penalties and completion of all required programs:

These are the chronological stages of DUI prosecution. You may skip to your current stage and discover more valuable information by clicking on its link below:

  1. Arrest Made
  2. Preliminary Arraignment
  3. Preliminary Hearing
  4. Formal Arraignment
  5. Pre-trial Conference
  6. Trial
  7. Sentencing

We will also break out the process as it applies to those who just got their first DUI versus those who were arrested for their second.

This is just a guide. It does not replace a personal consultation with and advice from an experienced, qualified DUI Lawyer, such as Attorney Paletta. It is designed to help you get an overall understanding of what to anticipate as the legal process moves forward. While I can not cover every contingency, I hope this general knowledge will help you feel better informed about your circumstances.

In a DUI situation, you can be arrested on the scene and then transported to the Allegheny County Jail.  However, if you consent to take a Breathalyzer test at the Police Station, or submit to a blood draw at a hospital, you will most likely be released from that location to a family member or friend who can take you home without going to jail.  Aside from providing identification, avoid talking to the Police about what happened; anything you say to the Police will be used against you at trial.  Also, if you were in an accident, do not tell your auto insurance company that you were drinking and driving.  Insurance companies make reports, and these reports can be obtained by Police and the District Attorney.   

The first thing you do is to talk to an experienced and knowledgeable DUI Defense Attorney.  When I refer to an “experienced and knowledgeable” DUI Defense Attorney, I mean a lawyer who has actually defended DUI cases at trial.  How do you find such a lawyer?  First, you can read about a lawyer’s experience on his website under Case Histories.  Do not be misled by on-line “paid Advertisements” for DUI lawyers who market themselves well; they may not have actual courtroom-tested trial experience.  After you read about the lawyer’s experience, make an appointment to meet with the attorney for a paperwork review (specifically “Criminal Complaint” and “Affidavit of Probable Cause”), and to give your side of the story.

If you are released immediately, the DUI prosecution will begin when you receive a “Summons” in the mail which will contain a “Criminal Complaint,” “Affidavit of Probable Cause” and a Notice of Preliminary Hearing.  Take this information immediately to a lawyer who specializes in DUI defense to discover your options.  You may have defenses to DUI at trial, or in the form of a PreTrial Motion to Suppress Evidence.  In my experience, many people enter a Guilty Plea to DUI because they do not want to spend any money, so they do not consult a lawyer who specializes in DUI Defense.  Therefore, sometimes people are convicted unnecessarily.

Some defenses that I have used to defend DUI charges successfully are:

  1. My client was not in the driver’s seat when Police arrived at his car, so the prosecutor could not prove my client was “driving”;
  2. My client was in the driver’s seat, but the car was on the berm of the road with the engine off, and police could not establish when the car was driven to that location;

Therefore, do not think that your case is a “lost cause.”  You may not be aware of defenses available to you.

1) Arrest Made

  • Defendant caught allegedly committing a crime
  • Defendant physically arrested and transported to Allegheny County Jail
    -or- Arrest warrant issued
  • “Probable Cause” must be established before arrest or Warrant issued.
  • Arrest by summons (most frequently Driving Under the Influence [D.U.I.] cases)

2) Preliminary Arraignment (P.A.)

  • Typically occurs before a Magisterial District Judge. If arrest is by City of Pittsburgh police, the P.A. occurs at Pittsburgh Municipal Court; if arrest is by a department other than Pittsburgh Police, the P.A. occurs before the local Magisterial District Judge.
  • “Bond” is set
  • Opportunity is given to post bond
  • Occurs within 72 hours of arrest
  • If the Accused requires a mental health evaluation, or if the crime charged is a certain sexual or violent offense, the “Behavior Assessment Unit” must perform an evaluation, and Accused will not be released until Accused is evaluated.

3) Preliminary Hearing (P.H.)

  • First opportunity of Accused to hear and see the evidence.
  • Purpose is to determine if “Prima Facie” evidence supports the crimes charged. A minimum amount of evidence is required to establish identification and to support the prosecution of the crimes charged at a trial
  • Presumption exists at P.H. only that Witnesses are telling the truth
  • Accused does not generally present defenses or defense evidence
  • May result in dismissal of case, reduction in charges, or fine assessed
  • A motion for bail reduction can be made at this hearing
  • Can be postponed within 3 days of scheduled P.H.Determines if a minimum amount of evidence exists to prove crime committed and that the client is the perpetrator if so, case held for trial
  • Court must presume that witness is telling the truth; defense does not present its evidence
  • May result in dismissal of case, reduction in charges, or fine assessed
  • A motion for bail reduction can be made at this hearing
  • Can be postponed within 3-10 days of scheduled hearing

4) Formal Arraignment

  • Paper date
  • Signing of the subpoena for trial date

5) Pre-Trial Conference

  • Paper date
  • Signing of the subpoena for trial date
  • Client indicated intended guilty or not-guilty plea
  • Client indicated intended jury trial or non-jury trial
  • Client may choose to accept a plea bargain at this time

6) Trial

  • Client may present a defense
  • Believability of witnesses extremely important
  • Client may be found guilty or non-guilty
  • If guilty, sentencing date to be set; client may choose to have a presentence investigation which normally takes an additional 8-10 weeks
  • Roughly six monthly from arrest

7) Sentencing

  • A person found guilty may be sentenced to any number of options, often in combination: fines, restitution, probation, alternative housing, total confinement
  • All paperwork including order for release must be in inmate’s file before actual release of client from ACJ to outside, a program, another correctional facility
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