Part 2 of the series on the Vermont DUI Process
Following the DUI investigation and the receipt of a citation, which tells you the date and time of the initial hearing on a DUI, the case turns from an investigation, into a prosecution. For Vermont DUIs, the initial hearing is termed as an arraignment, which essentially means that it is the starting point of where the police officer’s work concludes and the Vermont State’s attorney’s work begins. This article will touch on the basics of the formal process and give defendants a general idea of what to expect while their Vermont DUI winds its way through the court system.
The arraignment is where the defendant and their attorney are provided with the initial paper work (i.e. evidence) that supports the charge. Affidavits from police, criminal background checks of all witnesses and other supporting documents are customarily produced at this hearing. This packet of information does not constitute all of the evidence that the prosecution may rely on, but it serves as a good starting point for a defendant to understand what facts are being alleged and by whom.
After having time to review this information, the defendant and his/her counsel will appear before the judge and enter their plea to the charge. If a not-guilty plea is entered, the judge will set a time for the parties to return to court and may also issue conditions that the defendant will need to comply with during the pendency of the case. These conditions can range from informing your attorney of a change in address and coming to court when your told to do so, to checking in on a daily basis to a local police station to be subject to a breathalyzer. The severity of the condition will be heavily dependent on the defendant’s personal circumstances and their prior criminal history.
The Discovery Phase
The 60-90 days between hearings affords both sides to the case time to review the evidence and request that additional information be provided, such as police video tapes, expert reports and other evidence that either supports or refutes the allegations. This is also the time that motions to suppress evidence or dismiss the case can be filed. If a motion is filed, the Court can either rule based on the motion itself, or set the matter for a hearing. If a hearing is set, this will likely push back the date of the calendar call or pre-trial conference until after the motion has been ruled on.
After all legal issues are settled and, if the case has not been dismissed, the pre-trial/calendar call represents a chance for the state and defendant to come together to see if a resolution can be reached. This hearing can last several hours as there are numerous cases that are heard during the same time block. It is not an ideal situation for any defendant to be place in a crowded court room while they wait for their attorney to report to them the substance of their discussions with the State.
If it is clear however, that a deal will not be reached at this hearing, a lot of time can be saved if it is reported to the judge early on that the case should be scheduled for its next hearing. This will allow the defendant to leave the courthouse and for discussions between the State and defense counsel to occur off the record at another time.
Final Jury Call/Final Calendar Call
This hearing, in theory, is the last chance for a defendant and the state to reach an agreement before a jury is drawn and a trial occurs. In reality, given the court schedule and the backlog of cases waiting for trial, the first final jury call/final calendar call will likely not be the last chance, to settle a case before a jury is draw. In similar fashion to the pre-trial conference/calendar call, a defendant’s case will be one of many heard that day and again may entail a lot of waiting while the state’s attorneys meet with defense attorneys and self-reporesented individual to discuss settlement.
Settlement or Trial
If the Vermont DUI case is not dismissed, there will come a time in the prosecution where the defendant will need to choose between settling the case or trial. Regardless of what advice a Vermont DUI attorney gives, the ultimate choice on whether to settle or go to trial falls on the shoulders of the defendant. Depending on the court calendar and the facts of the case, a defendant may have up to a year before they are forced to make this decision. However, when and what decision to make will fall solely on the individual facts of the case and the final determination by the defendant.