Those who are charged with DUI have the right to plead guilty and go straight to the sentencing portion of their cases. However, individuals may also choose to plead not guilty and have their fates decided by a Virginia judge or by a jury. In some cases, a plea bargain may be reached at some point before a case goes to trial. In the event that a person chooses to enter a not guilty plea at his or her arraignment, a preliminary hearing may be held.
It is important to note that a case may be brought to a grand jury. After hearing evidence, the jurors would indicate whether there is enough evidence to bring the matter to trial. During a preliminary hearing, a judge evaluates evidence presented by the prosecution to determine if there is probable cause to hold a trial. The prosecutor is allowed to use both physical evidence and witness testimony to convince the judge that a case should proceed.
The defense is then allowed to cross-examine witnesses or cast doubt on the evidence presented to the court. If there is reason to doubt that a defendant would be convicted at trial, there is a chance that the case could be dismissed after the hearing concludes. Preliminary hearings may last for several hours depending on the details of a given case.
Individuals who are facing DUI charges may experience a significant interruption to their lives. In some cases, defendants remain in custody while their cases unfold, which may make it difficult to retain a job or care for their children. If convicted of drunk or impaired driving, a person may face additional financial hardships. An attorney may help an individual get a case dismissed or negotiate a favorable plea deal in a timely manner.