If you are facing charges for driving under the influence (DUI) in the state of Nebraska, there is a good chance this is the first time you have been in trouble with the law. All too often, otherwise law-abiding citizens have a momentary lapse in judgment and end up getting arrested for DUI. If that describes your situation, you are probably extremely worried about the outcome of your case and equally unsure of how to navigate the legal system. You also may have a number of questions relating to the prosecution of your case. One of the most important steps in a criminal prosecution is the discovery process. To help you better understand what it is and how it relates to your case, a Cass County DUI lawyer explains the discovery process.
Criminal Prosecution Basics
Before discussing the discovery process, it may help to go over some criminal prosecution basics to put the discovery process in context. When you were arrested, the arresting officer submitted a report to the prosecuting attorney’s office. Although the officer probably told you that you were being arrested for DUI, the arresting officer does not actually decide what charges are filed against you. That decision is made by the prosecuting attorney’s office after reading the report submitted by the officer. Once charges are officially filed, a court date will be set for an arraignment, or initial hearing. At your arraignment, the judge will read the charges against you, inform you of your rights, and ask if you have retained an attorney. Typically, nothing else important occurs at your first court appearance. A court date will be set down the road for a preliminary, or pretrial, hearing unless you ask for a trial date.
The Discovery Process
Within the legal system, the term “discovery” refers to the exchange of information or evidence between the parties. In a criminal prosecution, it specifically refers to the State’s obligation to “discover” evidence it intends to introduce at trial. In some jurisdictions, there is a standing discovery order that compels the prosecution to comply with discovery in all criminal cases without the need for a defense attorney to request it. In other jurisdictions, a defense attorney must file a discovery request. In a driving under the influence case, the type of information that might be “discovered” would include things such as the probable cause affidavit submitted after your arrest, the results of a chemical breath test and/or the video taken of your field sobriety tests. If you made any statements to the officer at the time of your arrest, that would also be included in discovery.
Why Is the Discovery Process Important?
In a criminal prosecution in the United States, an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This means the burden is on the State to prove you guilty, not on you to prove yourself innocent. This distinction is crucial to the American justice system. In a criminal trial, a defendant is not required to put on any defense, and in fact, sometimes a defense attorney will make a strategic decision not to put on a defense if the prosecution’s case is weak enough. A defendant, however, is always entitled to put on a defense if he/she decides to do so. To prepare for that defense, a defendant must know what evidence the State plans to use against him/her. To ensure that there are no surprises on the day of trial, the law requires the State to turn over “discovered” evidence to the defendant prior to trial. Not only does this allow the defense to prepare for trial, it also gives the defense an opportunity to challenge any evidence ahead of time. For example, if it appears that the initial stop in your case was illegal, your attorney can challenge that stop before trial through a pretrial motion.
Contact a Cass County DUI Lawyer
If you have been arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in the state of Nebraska, contact a Cass County DUI attorney at Petersen Law Office 24 hours a day at 402-513-2180 to discuss your case with an experienced DUI defense lawyer.