Navigating the court system is complicated and the consequences of not knowing how to do that can be disastrous. Every criminal case has many potential outcomes depending on the circumstances of the arrest. Most people who are arrested for OUI in Massachusetts are not criminals. They are regular, ordinary people who found the experience of being arrested embarrassing or horrible. If this is your first offense, and you were not involved in a major accident or charged with another serious crime, you should take some solace in the fact that the worst is over.
Most OUI cases are handled in District Court but, in some very serious cases, the case may be transferred to Superior Court. If you have been indicted by a grand jury and you are being arraigned in Superior Court you should call us immediately. The typical court proceedings in District Court will take place as follows.
This is the beginning of what is known as “due process” for every person accused of a crime in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. You will be called in front of the judge and a clerk will notify you of the charges against you. Your attorney will enter a plea of “Not Guilty” on your behalf. If this is your first OUI offense, you will be given a new date to return. You will also be notified that your license has been suspended and that you may not drive a car until this case is finished. The penalty for driving a vehicle while this suspension is in place is an automatic sixty days in jail, so be sure to have a ride planned in advance of your arraignment.
If this is not your first offense, if you were involved in a major accident, or if you have been arrested for other serious criminal charges such as possession of narcotics or weapons, the arraignment process may be more complicated. The Commonwealth may seek bail and your attorney will have to argue on your behalf to get the bail set as low as possible. In very serious cases, in which the defendant has multiple prior OUI charges, another person was seriously injured, or other serious crimes have been alleged against the defendant, the Commonwealth may seek to have the defendant detained in jail. While this is not the norm in an OUI case, it is always best to have an experienced attorney with you at your arraignment.
At the pre-trial conference your attorney will file a document called the Pre-Trial Conference Report. This report will list all of the documents and evidence that the Commonwealth must produce to the defendant in order to prepare for trial. An experienced will demand that the government produce to you all photos, videos, written statements, and scientific evidence that was obtained during your arrest. Your attorney will need to investigate this case even more thoroughly than the police. For instance, many stops occur near private businesses that use video surveillance. An experienced attorney will obtain these videos to determine if there is any evidence that can help to demonstrate your innocence. An experienced attorney will also demand that the Commonwealth provide all of the training manuals used by the officer when he or she conducted your field sobriety tests and/or breathalyzer test.
Compliance and Election
At this court date the Commonwealth will turn over all the materials your attorney requested. This is the “compliance” part. You will also be required to “elect” whether you want to proceed to a bench trial, jury trial, or take a plea deal. You may also inform the court, through your attorney, that you need what is called a motion hearing.
Sometimes the police engage in some type of improper behavior to obtain evidence and, as a result, your attorney may be able to convince the court to suppress that evidence. Some common reasons for suppressing evidence are that the police did not have probable cause to stop your vehicle, the police did not properly administer a breathalyzer test, or certain statements made by you were obtained by means of an unconstitutional interrogation. The police officers will be required to testify, and your attorney can cross-examine them. If evidence is suppressed then it cannot be used against you at court and sometimes the case may be dismissed entirely.
There are two types of trials: a bench trial and a jury trial. At a bench trial, a judge will decide if you are guilty or not guilty. At a jury trial, a jury of your peers will determine if you are guilty or not guilty. In both instances, the Commonwealth will call witnesses to testify against you and your attorney will be entitled to cross-examine them. There are many ways that an experienced attorney can effectively cross-examine the witnesses. One is to challenge the reliability of the field sobriety tests. Another is to challenge the accuracy of the breathalyzer test. Depending on the facts and circumstances of your case there may be many other topics of cross-examination that could help you win at trial.
Tender of Plea
If you and your attorney decide that a trial is not in your best interests your attorney will negotiate for the best possible outcome.
If this is the case, a judge will ask you a series of questions to make sure that your plea is knowing, willing, and voluntary. If the judge accepts the plea, he or she will impose the sentence agreed on between the Commonwealth and your attorney. If the judge disagrees with the agreement and wants to impose a harsher sentence, your attorney can withdraw the plea entirely and proceed to a trial.