Being arrested for drunk driving (in Michigan it is called “operating while intoxicated or OWI”) sets in motion a legal process that will always go through various procedures or stages. Each of these stages have a particular function, and are a result of either the United States Constitution, Michigan’s Constitution, or various statutes and court rules. Each of these stages are explained here:
After the initial traffic stop, investigation and arrest, your case will be booked and begin its journey through the judicial system. The length of time it takes to fully resolve your case will depend on its particular details.
Once you have been arrested, you will be transported to the police station for booking. At this stage, you may be detained in a holding cell until two things happen: the police believe you are sober enough to release, and you or someone you know posts your bail.
1. Arraignment – Your case will begin with an initial court appearance which is called an arraignment. The purpose of the arraignment is to determine what measures are necessary to both assure your appearance at future court hearings and also to “protect the community” while your case is pending. This means that in addition to any cash that you may be required to deposit with the court to assure future appearances, the court may also order conditions on your bond.
The applicable court rule reads in part as follows (not all of these conditions would be applicable to drunk driving cases).
At the arraignment, the defendant will also enter his or her plea and the bond conditions will be set.
Court Rule on Bond Conditions – subject to any condition or conditions the court determines are reasonably necessary to ensure the appearance of the defendant as required and the safety of the public, which may include requiring the defendant to:
2. Discovery – This is the term used to describe the various methods used by your attorney to learn all of the facts about your case that are known to the police and prosecutor. This will include things like the narrative report prepared by the officer that arrested you, any videotapes that may exist, and any maintenance records kept by the state about any chemical test that may have been taken during your arrest. Although this is one of the most important phases of your case, it will take place mostly “behind the scenes.” In other words, discovery does not take place in court. Your attorney should advise you about all of the information he or she learns about your drunk driving case, and should also provide you with copies of everything for your own review and file. This information will also serve as the basis of your lawyer’s analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
3. Pretrial – The next thing that happens in a typical Michigan OWI case is one or more pretrials. A pretrial is essentially a scheduling conference, and your attendance will usually be required. The purpose of a pretrial is to allow the prosecutor and the defense attorney to discuss what needs to be done to prepare the case for trial, or to determine if the case can be resolved without a trial. The options to consider would be to basically adjourn the pretrial to another date (as for example when discovery is not complete), to schedule a hearing on a pretrial issue (called an “evidentiary hearing”), to schedule a jury selection and trial date, or for you to plead guilty based on the plea/sentence bargain that your attorney would work out on your behalf.
4. DUI Motions – The term “motion” is used to describe the various written legal arguments that your attorney may make to either dismiss or significantly reduce your pending drunk driving charges. Generally speaking, motions are used to address statutory and constitutional violations. Any time your attorney asks the judge to make a legal finding or ruling about some aspect of your case it will be necessary for him or her to file a written motion. So for example if your attorney believes that there was an unlawful stop of your car, or that your arrest was unlawful, or that the evidence obtained (breath or blood test results) should not be admitted into evidence, then a motion will be necessary to bring these issues to the court’s attention.
5. DUI Evidentiary Hearings – If the motion filed will require the court to hear testimony from one or more witnesses, then an evidentiary hearing will be scheduled. This is not a trial because the determination here is not whether the prosecutor can meet his or her burden of proof, but instead the purpose is to ask the court to make a ruling, before trial, on some aspect of the evidence, hence the term “evidentiary hearing.”
6. Trial – A trial is when either a judge or jury does make that final determination. This is discussed further in the next section.
Remember that your failure to appear for any hearing in any court may result in the forfeiture of your bond money and a warrant being issued for your arrest to secure your presence in court.
One of the first questions many people ask after being charged with impaired or intoxicated driving is, “How long will this process take?” Typically, most Michigan drunk driving cases take between four to six months to fully resolve; however, every case is unique, and the details of your particular case will determine how long it takes to reach resolution.
There are a number of factors that play a role in determining the length of time it takes to resolve your case. For instance, if the court in which your case is being heard has a large caseload, it may take longer to get your case scheduled for trial. Scheduling your case for trial may also take longer depending on whether you request a bench trial or a jury trial.
Another determining factor in overall case length is the time it takes your defense attorney to complete his or her investigation. A thorough investigation includes ordering all necessary documents, reports, police videos, and blood alcohol test results associated with your case, and it may take considerable time for your attorney to obtain all this information from the prosecution and the police.