When you’ve been in a DUI, it can feel like it takes forever to go through the justice process. You’ve spent time recovering physically, you’ve had your car replaced or repaired, and justice for the person who hit you STILL hasn’t been served. You haven’t gotten your settlement, but you know that it’s on its way. You just don’t know where it is.
Familiarizing yourself with Arizona’s justice process may seem like complicated information that you don’t actually need to know. However, knowing the steps of the justice process can help you get a better idea of when you should expect your settlement.
At Thompson Law Firm, we try to settle all of our cases out of court. It’s easier for you because you don’t have to testify in court and we can handle every aspect of getting you the settlement you deserve. Regardless of whether your case goes to court, if you have been a victim of DUI, you must go through the Arizona justice process.
The injury attorneys at Thompson Law Firm in Phoenix have significant experience in helping clients who have been in a DUI accident and have gone through the justice process. Our offices are conveniently located in Chandler, Peoria, and North Phoenix, and we can meet in-person or over the phone or video call. You can contact us for a free consultation, or read on to find out more.
By the way, we will also help with other problems that have cost you sleep, like getting a rental car very soon and finding a nearby doctor or psychiatrist who can help get your life back on track. Even the best legal team isn’t good enough if your quality of life isn’t sustainable while justice and compensation are on the way. The whole point of legal action is to regain quality of life, so we help you long-term as attorneys and short-term as your go-to people.
If you are unsure whether or not you can afford an attorney, don’t worry. We only get paid when you settle. Check out our Attorney Fees Calculator to find out more.
What is the Justice Process
In Arizona, the criminal justice process is comprised of courts, jails, and prisons. The state has the fifth-highest percentage of prisoners per capita, and the system is relatively large in comparison with other states.
As the victim of a DUI, you’ll go through the justice process tangentially- the person who will actually be going through the justice process steps of arrest, initial appearance, and so on so forth, will be the drunk driver who hit you. It is helpful to know what step in the justice process your case is in, as that can help inform you on how many more steps must be completed before you get your settlement.
The justice process starts with an arrest, and can end at several points throughout the process, as explained below. In general, the parts of the justice process are as follows:
- Arrest/ Citation
- Initial Appearance
- Filing of Charges
- Plea Agreements
- PreTrial Hearings
The most common way to enter the criminal justice process is through an arrest by a police officer. There must be probable cause that a crime has been committed and that the person being arrested is likely the person who committed the crime. In lesser cases, a citation may be issued.When a suspect is arrested, they are booked into jail and will remain there until the initial appearance before a judge, which usually occurs within 24 hours of the arrest. In cases of citation, the accused will be summoned to appear in court before a judge on a specified date.
In a DUI case, the police officer should have either arrested the person who hit you or issued them a citation at the scene. The reason that this is different for DUI cases compared to other auto accident cases is because in most auto accident cases, the at-fault driver has not committed a felony. For example, if someone runs a red light and hits you, they may have to pay a fine as well as have their insurance pay a settlement. They may be issued a traffic citation.
However, in a DUI accident, the broken law is severe and the person who hit you may either be charged with a misdemeanor or felony. This is because, in the vast majority of situations, running a red light (or making an illegal left turn, or driving the wrong way) and causing an accident is not done on purpose. The at-fault driver didn’t get into the car knowing that there was a much better chance that they’d cause an accident. They simply missed the light turning red, or hit the gas too hard, or got distracted.
In a DUI accident, the person getting behind the wheel KNOWS that they are inebriated. They know that they have a higher risk of getting into an accident and hurting someone. They’ve heard the phrase “don’t drink and drive” like we all have growing up. They’re breaking a more serious law, so they get a more serious immediate punishment of arrest or citation, as opposed to the person who ran the red light.
At this time, the at-fault driver (defendant) appears before a judge and is informed of allegations and the right to an attorney or to have one appointed. Conditions for release or parole will be established. Conditions that are considered include the severity of the crime, a criminal record, and the person’s stability in the community.
The defendant may be released with a simple promise to return to court at an appointed time (of their own volition) or may be released following posting of bond, a specified amount of money that encourages the defendant to appear in court at a later date (posting bail). They may also be released with a monitoring device on home arrest or to be supervised by a court officer. These latter two punishments are usually reserved for drivers who have been arrested for DUI more than once.
Filing of Charges
In a DUI case, this step is where the defendant, or at-fault driver, attends a status conference with an attorney. They review the case, the police officer’s charges, and discuss a plea bargain offer. A plea bargain is what happens when the defendant pleads “guilty” to the charge they are accused of in advance of a trial. In a plea bargain, the defendant waives their right to a preliminary hearing and a trial, and usually a plea bargain carries a lighter sentence than if the defendant continues to a court trial and loses. If the plea offer is declined, the case will move forward to a preliminary hearing within a few days.
For example, if the driver who hit you has been arrested one time for DUI, they have a maximum punishment of 6 months in country jail, alongside fines and other punitive damages in your settlement. However, if they take a plea bargain, waiving their right to a trial, they may go to jail for less time, or even be put on probation. It’s important to know that a plea bargain has to be reviewed and accepted by both sides (the at-fault driver and the victim of DUI) before it can be accepted.
If the plea bargain is accepted here, then the justice process does not end here.
During this step, the judge reads the charges against the defendant, enters a plea of “not guilty” on their behalf, and determines if the defendant will have legal representation. The case is then assigned to a judge and court dates are set. This happens even if the plea bargain is accepted during the filing of charges.
Most criminal cases never proceed to trial because they end in a plea bargain. This is when all parties—the defendant, defense attorney, prosecutor, and judge—agree on a lighter sentence. If the defendant pleads guilty to this plea bargain, they formally acknowledge their guilt to the judge and no trial is held. This is where the at-fault driver will plead guilty, and the justice process will end with the terms set forth in the plea bargain. If no plea bargain is reached at this time, the case will move onto pretrial hearings and court.
It’s important to note that if you are a victim of DUI, you don’t need to be “hands on” for any of the process so far. As your lawyers, we will take care of obtaining a settlement for you, including the possibility of a plea bargain. If your case does go to court, then you will need to appear in court and testify.
If the case goes to trial, the judge will schedule a number of pretrial conferences. During these, attorneys can file a variety of motions and continue to discuss possible plea bargains. If a plea agreement is reached during this time, a trial will not be held.
In the case of a criminal trial, the prosecutor (you and your attorney) is tasked to prove that the defendant committed the crime in question to the level of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In most cases, felony trials are heard by a jury unless all parties agree to have the case presented to just a judge. In a jury trial, if the jurors find the defendant not guilty, they are then released and cannot be retried for the same crime. There may be a hung jury when the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision. In that case, the state can offer a new plea agreement, retry the defendant with a new jury, or dismiss the charges.
When the defendant pleads guilty in a plea agreement or is found guilty at trial, they will be scheduled for sentencing. The judge will follow sentencing laws and consider any prior convictions or facts about the crime. For DUI, like most crimes, the sentence gets more and more severe the more laws the defendant has broken.
Following a conviction through trial, the defendant has the right to submit an appeal. Within 20 days of sentencing, the defense attorney can file a notice of appeal. Filing an appeal does not guarantee that it will be granted. If a plea bargain is accepted, the defendant loses their right to appeal the sentence.
At the Thompson Law Firm, we have more than 10 years of experience helping clients obtain compensation for their personal injuries, including those from DUI accidents. When you’re ready to talk, please contact our office to arrange a free initial consultation by phone or at our Chandler office.
If you have been in a DUI car accident, contact Thompson Law Firm in Chandler, AZ to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. We provide personal injury legal services to clients in the greater Phoenix area including Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tempe, and Peoria.