How Often Do DUI Cases Go to Trial in Arizona

In this article we going to explore a common question that we get asked a lot here at R&R Law Group.  How often do DUI cases go to trial and why?  Before we answer that question, it’s helpful to take a step back and examine how the DUI process works.  

First you have an arraignment which is your initial court date.  Following your arraignment, you will have a series of pretrial conferences.  These conferences are typically the most substantive part of a DUI case. This is where the meat and potatoes, if you will, are worked out.  There is a lot of discussion going on back and forth between a defense lawyer and a prosecutor during these conferences.  There are negotiations, there are interviews, there are a lot of things happening at each one of these pretrial conferences. And then what usually happens in most DUI cases is they will plea out. This means that somebody will take a plea deal, or the charges will be dismissed, or something will happen without the case ever going to trial.  

National statistics reveal that nearly 80,000 people were defendants in federal DUI criminal cases in fiscal 2018, but just 2% of them went to trial.  The overwhelming majority (90%) pleaded guilty instead, while the remaining 8% had their cases dismissed, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data collected by the federal judiciary.   So, based on the numbers, the likelihood of your DUI case going to trial is actually quite low.  

That being the reality, there are still some factors to consider that can impact whether or not going to trial is a good idea.  So, let’s look at some of the pros of taking your DUI case to trial.   The number one consideration is whether or not you have a good legal argument. This applies to any criminal case and not just DUI’s. Good legal arguments would be if you have factual problems. If you have police illegalities.  If you have illegal searches or seizures.  If you have problems with your Miranda Warning. If you have problems with a bad traffic stop.  These are the types of legal arguments that can result in a favorable verdict at a trial.  There are a number of legal arguments that can result in a favorable verdict at a trial based on what was uncovered during your pretrial conferences. So, if that’s your situation, then exercise those arguments. Exercise those factual issues.  Because you have a good shot at winning if you want to take your case to trial.  

The other consideration is whether the expense of taking your case to trial makes financial sense for you. This is something that needs to be thoughtfully contemplated and evaluated.  The high costs involved in going to trial are an unfortunate reality in our judicial system.  It’s expensive to go to court and those court costs are passed directly onto you.  If it makes sense to spend the money you can hire expert witnesses, you can hire an accident reconstructionist. You can re-test blood samples.  So, if that is a good strategy for you, these are things that can strengthen your case.  

The cost of hiring a reputable lawyer are significant as well.  Now there are public defenders, of course, and their services are free, but they offer a very different caliber of service than what an experienced and knowledgeable private DUI attorney will be able to offer.  There is a direct correlation between the amount of compensation that a lawyer receives and the level of representation that a client receives in my opinion.   That is just how the system works. It is a reality. So, you want to look at that. Is it worth your money? Is it worth your time? Is it worth your investment in hiring all these different experts, witnesses and utilizing these different resources to give you a favorable outcome? So, if money is not an object then trial is a good way to go. 

Another very important consideration before deciding to go to trial is to make sure that you are not going to incur a harsher punishment for doing so. For example, if you are in a bad jurisdiction and you lose your case, there are some courts, judges and prosecutors that will request a substantially harsher penalty based on the fact that you made them go to trial.  This is known as a trial tax.  This is very unethical, but some judges just do not want these types of cases being heard in their courtrooms.  You have a right to a trial, but some judges will do that. They will give you a far worse penalty than what you would have obtained through accepting a plea deal.

Conversely, if you have a favorable judge one that is defense friendly this is going to factor into the equation as to whether or not you should take your case to trial.  Some judges are good, but there aren’t too many of them so don’t rely solely on their reputations.  But, let’s say that you are in front of a fair judge, you have a good rapport and you think that you are going to get some good rulings.  This will influence your decision as to whether you should take your case to trial and attempt to break outside of the statistics. 

Now, we happen to be in a good jurisdiction here in Scottsdale, so if you go to trial and happen to lose your case, the outcome is not going to be harsher than it would be ordinarily. Meaning the judge is not going to be punishing you for going to trial.  You are still going to need to rely on the advice of your attorney to confirm that still holds true.  Depending on their answer, this will determine if there might be a downside or upside to going to trial.  

Another consideration is if you have a new prosecutor, somebody who is not very experienced, somebody who does not like DUI trials. Somebody who, for example, does not really know what they are doing. Or maybe it is their first DUI trial, they are brand new, or something along those lines. Or you have experience with that prosecutor, and you know that science and gas chromatography is not their forte, you may want to take your case to trial.  Essentially what it comes down to is you want to take your case to trial when you have got nothing to lose by doing so and you can afford to be professionally represented.  If a prosecutor offers you a plea deal that is the same as what you would get if you took your case to trial and lost, you have nothing to lose. 

So, why wouldn’t you take your case to trial?  Well, some of the cons that we see most often for not taking your case to trial is if your penalties and fines have already been substantially reduced, or if some of the penalties have been seriously mitigated based on a plea deal. 

Another reason you might not want to take your case to trial is if you are in front of a harsh judge. There are some judges who are notorious for imposing a trial tax and they will make your penalties harsher if you go to trial and lose. These judges are known to give bad rulings. They simply do not want to sit in front of a jury trial for two to three days and go through the process.

Also, if money is an issue, you may want to avoid taking your case to trial. If you cannot afford a trial, if you cannot afford to hire the expert witnesses that are necessary to make a compelling case, then that is a valid reason for deciding against going to trial.  Sometimes we can use the government’s witnesses to our benefit by using different techniques in our line of questioning and obtain the desired results (without bringing an expert witness into court to testify on our behalf) so, don’t let that totally discourage you from going to court.  However, there are still costs associated with going to court that can’t be ignored either.

There are some locations where the pool of potential jurors or jury pool that tends to be a bad jurisdiction from our experience. People from that area do not like alcohol and they do not like drinking. They particularly do not like drinking and driving.  So, they take one look at our client, the person who is being charged with a DUI, as soon as they walk into the courtroom and believe that person is guilty. They have made up their minds without hearing a shred of evidence that the person is guilty as charged. That’s know as being in a bad jurisdiction. 

We have also had situations where prosecutors have threatened to add additional charges or charge new crimes if you reject a plea deal and take your case to trial. So, if you have a particularly contentious prosecutor that will make things tougher for you if you go to trial, you need to critically evaluate those threats as you don’t want to end up in worse situation.  It’s imperative to measure the level of risk you are taking for the potential of reward.  And, there are plenty of risks to be sure.  

So, the long and short of this is most DUI cases do not go to trial. There are a lot of attorneys who take DUI cases and never go to trial because they do not consider themselves trial attorneys. They don’t feel confident in their abilities at trial. They just don’t want to deal with trials. There are several reasons why we don’t subscribe to that philosophy at our office. We love going to trial!  We became defense lawyers to push the process and take cases to trial. We didn’t become lawyers to hang down our heads and plead guilty. 

So, if this sounds like something you are dealing with and you want to sit down with my team to discuss, then give us a call at (602) 362-9727. We will schedule a free case evaluation where we will walk you through the process and see what makes the most sense for you and your situation. Thank you!