How Often Do DUI Cases Go To Trial in Arizona?

In this video we’re answering a common question that we get about DUI cases and specifically how often do DUI cases go to trial and why.

So, let’s a step back and before we get there, let’s take a look at the DUI process because it is long and it will help answer some of the questions, if we can do a quick refresher as to how this works.

Here we have kinda the structure, the tree, the branches of how a DUI case typically works. You have an arraignment, which is your initial court date.

You’re going to have a series of what are called pre-trail conferences, this is where a lotta the meat and potatoes of a DUI case are happening.

There’s a lot of conversation back and forth between a defense lawyer and a prosecutor, there’s negotiations, there’s interviews, there’s a lot of things happening at each one of these pretrial conferences.

And then what ordinarily will happen in most DUI cases, is they will plea out, meaning somebody will take a plea deal or they’ll be dismissed or something will happen without it going to trial.

If you take a step back and you look at the national numbers and the average of how many cases actually go to trial in criminal cases, or across the board in really anything, it’s actually a pretty significantly low number. It’s somewhere between two to 5% of cases actually go to trial. The most common result is people take a plea deal or they settle without going to trial. So, you want to keep that in mind, that just by the numbers, by just the sheer statistics, the likelihood that your DUI case is going to go to trial is probably pretty low.

Just based on the numbers. Now, there are things that will impact whether or not going to trial is a good idea, let’s take a look at some of them.

So, up here I have listed the pros. When is it a good idea to take your DUI case to trial? And so number one is when you have good, legal arguments, this is number one across the board for any criminal case, not just DUIs.

If you’ve got good, legal arguments, if you’ve got factual problems, if you have illegalities from the police, if you have illegal searches or seizures, if you have problems with Miranda, if you have problems with a bad traffic stop, there are a number of legal arguments that can result in a favorable verdict at a trial based on what you were able to do during this pretrial settings, that will set your case up to win favorably at trial. So you can go to trial, exercise those arguments, exercise those factual issues. If you have a good shot, you want to take your case to trial.

The other thing that is, unfortunately kind of a reality in our judicial system, is if the money makes sense for you to do it. So when you go to trial in there representation, some will not.

Most, I would say most reputable firms don’t do that because they understand that trial is a significant cost and so they have to pass that along to a person who is in need of an attorney.

Public defender of course doesn’t have any of those concerns, but they will offer a different caliber of representation and in my personal opinion, it will be something that will be sort of equal to the amount of compensation that they are receiving. That’s just how the system works, it’s a reality.

The other reason why money is important is because if you have the funds you can hire expert witnesses, you can hire accident reconstructionists.

You can retest the blood sample if that’s a good strategy for you. So you want to take a look at that, is it worth your money, is it worth your time. Is it worth your investment in hiring all of these different expert witnesses, and all of these other resources in order to give you a favorable outcome?

So you want to consider that. If money is really not an option, trial is a good way to go. The other thing that’s important is you’re not going to get a harsher result. So let’s say for example, you’re in a bad jurisdiction, and we’ll talk about that down here, or you’re in a jurisdiction that’s a very good jurisdiction, and if you go to trial, and you lose, it’s not going to be any harsher, meaning it’s not going to be something that the judge is going to be punishing you for.

In criminal law, and many other areas of law, we call it a trial tax.

There are some judges, there are some courts, there are some prosecutors, who if you lose the case, they will ask for a substantially harsher penalty, just based on the fact that you made them go to trial.

Some judges don’t want it to happen in their courtrooms, I think it’s totally unethical, you have a right to a trial, but some judges will do that, they’ll give you a worse penalty than you would get through a plea deal.

So, if there is no harsher penalty, or you’re in a good jurisdiction, and you’re going to want to rely on your attorney to answer that question for you, then you may not have any downside to going to trial.

The other thing is if you have a favorable judge. That kind of ties into the prior point, but some judges are good, some judges are defense friendly, there are not many of them, so don’t rely on that, but let’s say you do have a good judge, you have a good rapport, you’re in front of a fair judge, and you think that you’re going to get some good rulings, that’s going to go into your equation as to whether or not you should take your case to trial, and sort of break outside of that statistic.

And finally, actually two other points, one, if you have a new prosecutor, somebody who’s not very experienced, somebody who doesn’t like DUI trials, somebody who, for example, doesn’t really know what they’re doing, or it’s their first DUI trial, or something like that, or you have experience with that prosecutor and you know that science and gas chromatography is maybe not their forte, you may want to take your case to trial.

But really what it comes down to is you want to take your case to trial when you’ve got nothing to lose. If you’re going through this whole process, and a prosecutor offers you a plea deal that is substantially the same as what you would get, even if you took your case to trial and lost, you really have nothing to lose.

Why wouldn’t you take your case to trial, presuming that all these other factors make sense. And there are many more, these are kind of the big ones.

So if you’ve got nothing to lose, why would you go through this whole process, and then just plead guilty at the very end.

You could do that right here if you wanted to just go and plead guilty. Why not take your case to trial if it’s likely that it’s not going to get any worse, or that the penalties are going to be the same as if you took a plea deal, even if you went to trial and lost, and I’m not trying to advocate take your case to trial and lose, but sometimes that happens, and so you want to make sure that you know what the risk and the reward and the cost benefit analysis looks like so if you’re in a position where you’ve got nothing to lose, you might want to take your case to trial.

Some of the cons that we see most often. Why wouldn’t you take your case to trial? As I mentioned, if you have something to lose, it’s probably not a good idea to take your case to trial, unless the deal that you’re getting is unacceptable.

But if you already have something that is reduced, if you already have a certain level DUI, maybe it’s reduced substantially, or maybe some of the penalties are going to be seriously mitigated based on this plea deal, you may not want to go to trial because you have a reduction, you have a benefit, that if you go to trial and lose, you may actually have worse penalties. So you don’t want to take a plea deal, go to court and lose, and end up in a worse situation. So that might be something that you want to consider. The other thing that you want to consider is if you are in front of a harsh judge.

There are some judges who are notorious for imposing a trial tax, they will make your penalties harsher if you go to trial and lose, they will give you bad rulings. They don’t want to sit in front of a jury, in front of a trial for two or three days, and go through the process. If you’re in that type of situation, you have to consider that as a reason not to go to trial.

Similarly, like I mentioned previously, if money is an issue, if you cannot afford a trial, if you cannot hire the expert witnesses that are necessary, that needs to go into your equation.

Now, just because you may not be able to afford a trial, or you may not be able to afford an expert witness or those things doesn’t mean you can’t go to trial. If you still, if all these other factors don’t matter and it’s just a money thing, that can be solved. That’s not that big of a deal.

There are ways that defense attorneys can get around not having an expert witness come into court and testify on our behalf, we can use the government’s witness to our benefit.

There are different techniques that we use, different lines of questioning that we can use to actually get the same, similar style of questions out of them and use that in front of the jury, you just have to make sure you’re understanding that.

So, if money’s an issue don’t let that be something that totally discourages you from going that route, but it is a factor, okay? The next thing we want to talk about is if you’re in a bad jurisdiction.

If you’re in a really bad jurisdiction, there are some cities in Arizona, there are some judges, there are some locations, where if you are pooling, if you’re pulling from a pool of potential jurors, that, in our experience, just tends to be a bad jurisdiction.

People from that area, they don’t like alcohol, they don’t like drinking, they don’t like drinking and driving, they don’t like anything, and so essentially, they take a look at our client, the person who’s being charged, as soon as they walk in the courtroom, even though they haven’t pled guilty, or been found being guilty of anything, they look at that person and say, we believe that person’s guilty without even hearing a shred of evidence. It’s called being in a bad jurisdiction, you want to consider that.

The other thing, if your case could get substantially worse. We’ve had situations where prosecutors have threatened to add additional charges, or charge new crimes, and so if you take your case to trial and they make that threat, they say, we’re going to make this worse on you, if you decide you want to go to trial or reject this plea deal, you need to consider that, because you don’t want to end up in a bad situation.

So, the long and short of this, the reality is, most DUI cases don’t go to trial, there are a lot of attorneys who take DUI cases and never go to trial, because they don’t consider themselves trial attorneys, they don’t feel confident in their abilities at trial, or they just don’t want to do ’em.

There’s a number of reasons why. We don’t do that at our office, we love going to trial, we became defense lawyers to push the process, and to take cases to trial, not go through all of this so we can just walk out at the end and plead guilty.

So if this sounds like this might be a question that’s applicable to you or your case, you want to sit down with my team, give our office a call, we’ll schedule a free case evaluation, we’ll walk you through this process.

Thanks for watching.

The DUI process is long, but understanding how it works will help in understanding why and how often cases go to trial.

Arraignment – This is the initial court date. At this proceeding, a DUI defendant will be formally advised of what they are being charged with and will be asked to enter a plea to the charges. 

Pre-Trial Conferences – This will be a series of court dates where the majority of the case process is carried out. During this stage there is frequent contact between the defense lawyer and the prosecutor, negotiations, interviews, and other proceedings related to the case. 

What ordinarily happens during the Pre-Trial Conferences is a defendant will accept a plea agreement. 

At times, a case can also be dismissed completely at this stage. 

Trial: If a dismissal or plea agreement is not made at the Pre-Trial Conferences, then the case will go to trial. The national average of criminal cases that actually go to trial is between 2%-5%. Relative to the national average, the likelihood of a case going to trial is considerably low. 

There are certain things to consider when determining whether taking a case to trial is the best option.

Reasons a DUI Case Should Go to Trial

1. Good Legal Arguments

Having a strong legal argument is the best reason to go to trial for any criminal case, not just DUI’s. This would entail factual problems, illegalities from the police such as unlawful searches and/or seizures, violations of Miranda rights, bad traffic stops, etc. 

There are a number of legal arguments that can result in a favorable verdict at a trial. 

2. Financial Feasibility

An unfortunate reality of the judicial system is that trial is only a good option if it makes sense financially. It can be extremely difficult to retain a high-caliber team of attorneys without sufficient funding. 

However, if finances are not an issue, an expert witness or accident reconstructionist could be hired, blood samples could be retested, and other opportunities become more available that will have a stronger impact on the trial.

Considering such financial investments is worth the time and money is critical in evaluating whether a case should go to trial or not.

3. No Harsher Result

In criminal law, there is something that is referred to as a “trial tax.” There are some judges, courts, and prosecutors who will ask for a substantially harsher penalty should a defendant lose at trial. 

If a case happens to find itself in a jurisdiction where the so-called “trial tax” is not imposed, then it may be an indicator that trial is a favorable option. 

4. Favorable Judge

Some judges are defense-friendly, others are not. Having a fair and favorable judge is an important factor in deciding if a case should go to trial.

5. New Prosecutor

When it comes to trial, the experience of the attorneys involved makes all the difference. If the trial is being prosecuted by someone who is not experienced or adept at DUI cases, this may also be an indication that a case should be taken to trial.

6. Nothing to Lose

If a prosecutor offers a plea deal that is very similar to what the result of a lost trial would be, there is essentially nothing to lose by going to trial. Assuming all of the aforementioned factors make sense, there is really no reason not to go to trial in such a case.   

Reasons a DUI Case Should Not Go to Trial

1. Charges Already Reduced

If a plea deal is offered that substantially reduces the level of DUI and/or the subsequent penalties, there is an inherent benefit that may be lost at trial and result in a worse penalty. 

The bottom line is that you do not want to end up in a worse situation after the trial than you were at the beginning of the case. 

2. Harsh Judge

As mentioned previously, there are unfortunately judges that are notorious for imposing the “trial tax,” and will make the penalties harsher if a defendant goes to trial and loses. 

3. Monetary Concerns

If necessary experts cannot be hired for trial, then it may not be worthwhile to pursue. This does not mean that trial is not an option. Everyone has a right to a fair trial, and there are ways to circumnavigate the financial restrictions.

However, it must be understood that the type of defense is significantly different if there is a deficiency of funding. 

4. Bad Jurisdiction

There are certain areas where jurors are naturally going to be disinclined toward DUI defendants. Regardless of whether has plead or has been found guilty, there are some jurisdictions that will be prematurely biased against the defendant. 

5. Could Get Worse

It should be considered whether a case could be made substantially worse by going to trial. There have been cases where prosecutors have threatened to pursue additional charges if a plea deal is not taken. As mentioned previously, a case should not be taken to trial if it will put you in a position that is worse than where you started. 

The reality is that most DUI cases don’t go to trial. However, if you have been charged with a DUI, it is extremely important to hire an aggressive legal team that is trial-ready whether the case goes to trial or not.