Most citizens that are charged with a Driving Under the Influence case, or DUI case in Franklin, Brentwood, Nolensville, or Spring Hill Tennessee have never been exposed to the criminal court process. Here is some brief information that I hope you find helpful and give you a better understanding of the DUI court process in Williamson County, Tennessee.
Once you are arrested, you will be brought to the Williamson County Sherriff's Department in Franklin, Tennessee. You will appear before a judicial officer who will hear the sworn testimony of the police officer about the probable cause of the arrest and the judicial officer or magistrate will make a finding of whether probable cause exists for the arrest warrant and determine a bail bond. A bail bond is the amount of money you will need to pay to assure your presence in court. One has two (2) options. 1.) Pay the full amount of the bail bond at the clerk's office. 2.) Hire a professional bail bondsman.
Once you are released from the Williamson County jail, you will be given a court date in a couple weeks on a Thursday at 2:00pm. The afternoon appearance docket has three (3) major functions. First, the Court ascertains if you have an attorney. Second, if you can not afford an attorney you can complete an application for the public defender's office. Thirdly, the Court will reset your court date for a hearing. No adverse action will be taken against you on that court date. Once you obtain a criminal defense attorney to represent you in your Williamson county drunk driving case, they can send a waiver of appearance to the clerk to avoid you having to appear at that court date. After the attorney sends in the waiver, the clerk's office will send the attorney a new court date and usually a copy of the warrant.
During the time between your arrest and morning court date you should meet with your attorney to develop some defenses about your case and develop the theory of the case. It is also a time for your attorney's preparation and investigation of the case.
Your first morning appearance has more substance. The arresting officer will be present in Court. This will be a time to make some tough decisions. Normally, the first court appearance is chaotic. The Court calls the docket, which is similar to calling roll, to make sure everyone is in attendance. After calling the docket, the Court will go over the defendant's constitutional rights to enter a plea bargain or not. The Court may also go over the enhanced punishment if one pleads guilty to a DUI charge and what the increased risk of punishment is once they have a conviction. After this procedure, the Court will take a recess in order for the assistant district attorney to negotiate or discuss the case with your criminal defense attorney. During this time, the district attorney and your lawyer discuss the case about a plea bargain resolution or some other disposition on your case. The patrol cars for most law enforcement agencies in Williamson County are almost always equipped with video recording devices. In most cases, they bring those recordings to court.
After this process, a citizen accused will be faced with several choices.
- Plead guilty as charged.
- Enter into a plea bargain agreement, which is highly unlikely.
- Waive your right to a preliminary hearing in exchange for viewing the video tape of your arrest
- Have a preliminary hearing.
From my experience of practicing in the criminal courts of Williamson County since 1994, a plea bargain to a reduced charge of driving under the influence will be hard fought. In Tennessee, the disposition of driving under the influence cases varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, in the 23 rd Judicial District which covers Dickson, Cheatham, Humphries, Stewart, and Houston Counties the district attorney's offices have a no reduction policy. In Nashville, Davidson County, the district attorneys are more open to plea discussions. In Williamson County, the district attorney's office takes a strong stance against reducing the cases. It is not unheard of to have a case reduced, but cases are not reduced on a common occurrence. So, the choice is to plead guilty or fight the case, which is a decision only you can make. If you chose to fight the case, a preliminary hearing is one of the necessary tools to discover as much information as one can about the facts of the case. It is a criminal defense attorney's major opportunity to put the officer on the witness stand to determine what happened.
One technique I have found effective is getting a copy of the video of the tape prior to making any decisions. I have found this a productive use of time. Typically, we continue the cases. The D.A. provides a copy. We review it prior to the next court date. We can make an intelligent decision about whether to proceed or not. In exchange for getting the tape, an agreement is usually made to waive your right to a preliminary hearing. While I am an advocate of never waiving the preliminary hearing, sometimes it is a good idea to see what you are facing before a full defense is made.
What is the difference between having a preliminary hearing and waiving your right to a preliminary hearing?
A preliminary hearing is a hearing before the general sessions judge in which probable cause must be established by preponderance of the evidence to present a case to the Williamson County Grand Jury. The probable cause standard is the lowest threshold of evidence in the criminal system. The preliminary hearing does not require proof beyond reasonable doubt. It only requires evidence that more likely than not a crime was committed in Williamson County and more likely than not you are the person that did it. Strategically, it is a good method for discovering information about the case through the testimony of the officers. The preliminary hearing is electronically recorded, it is preserved, and can be copied for later use. A waiver of the preliminary hearing waives that hearing. In exchange, you should get something in return like the video tape.
Sometimes cases do get continued in the general sessions court for several reasons such as the blood alcohol test is not back from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation or the toxicology report is not back from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. You can have a trial in general sessions court but there is no procedure to get adequate discovery before you can try the case in general sessions court. The next step in the criminal court process if you are unable to settle your case in general sessions court is circuit court. It is more formal and the rules of criminal procedure apply.
The first step at circuit court level is the arraignment. The arraignment dates back to the middle ages in which the charges were read to the defendant so they would be placed on notice of what they are charged with. Today, the arraignment is routinely waived by signing a document waiving your appearance at that court hearing and your attorney can take care of it.
After the arraignment, your attorney will file a request for discovery. That is the big advantage of criminal or circuit court over general sessions court is that the rules of criminal procedure apply. Once the request is made the district attorney's office has to turn over certain information to you such as video tapes, test, statements, and several other types of information.
Also, at the arraignment the Court will set a scheduling order. The scheduling order sets forth three major dates. The first discussion date to see if the can be resolved and to determine if the discovery has been completed. The second discussion date is a review date and motion date to hear motions. The third date is a plea date. If the case cannot be settled prior to trial, the Court will advise that they will accept no plea bargain offer if the case is set for trial. These admonitions may be a chilling affect on the citizens accused right to a trial by jury.
The motion date is a critical time. After the investigation, your attorney may discover that there is a need to file certain pretrial motions. The motion that should be considered in most cases is whether or not to file a motion to suppress the traffic stop in a DUI case. One of the basic principles of DUI defense is to determine whether the officer had probable cause or reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop.
This is just a quick summary of the court process if you have been charged with a drunk driving or DUI case in Williamson County. Remember, court procedures change often and always consult with your criminal defense attorney if you have any questions regarding the process.
If you have any questions, you are free to contact us by phone 615-686-2115 or via email by filling out the form on the website.