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The Prosecutor's Role in a Drunk-Driving Case

The penalties for drinking and driving have become more severe, particularly for repeat offenders, who often face mandatory jail time. In many states, plea bargaining is restricted or banned in drunk-driving cases. Fines have increased and driver's license suspensions have lengthened. It is also harder to obtain a "hardship" license that allows a person only to drive to and from work. In this climate an experienced drunk-driving defense attorney is essential.

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The Prosecutor's Role in a Drunk-Driving Case

Prosecution refers to the government's role in the criminal-justice system. When criminal activity is suspected, it is up to the government to investigate, arrest, charge and bring the alleged offender to trial. A prosecutor is a lawyer who works for the government and who is responsible for developing and presenting the government's case against a criminal defendant. Prosecutors may be called county attorneys, city attorneys, district attorneys or states' attorneys. Some jurisdictions may even have experienced police officers act as prosecutors in drunk-driving cases. The prosecutor is the opponent or "adversary" of the criminal defendant and his or her attorney; the two sides go head-to-head against each other in court.

Because these public attorneys focus their energies on prosecuting criminal cases, they are generally very experienced. Therefore it is extremely important for a drunk-driving defendant to consult an attorney who has experience defending people charged with drunk driving. If you are concerned about preserving your rights as a defendant and want to strike a fair balance in court, contact Fitzpatrick Hagood Smith & Uhl LLP in Dallas, TX, to speak with a criminal-defense attorney who is knowledgeable in drunk-driving law.

Prosecutors decide whether to pursue drunk-driving cases in court

A prosecutor usually becomes involved in a drunk-driving case through a referral from the police who have investigated, arrested, searched and processed an alleged offender. In making the decision whether to go forward with a case, the prosecutor usually considers three things: whether the case is legally sound, whether it can be proved and the relevant policy considerations. If the prosecutor exercises his or her prosecutorial discretion by deciding not to go forward with a case, it will usually be over.

The prosecutor must be assured that there is enough reliable evidence to prove the drunk-driving charge before he or she will bring the case to trial. For example, if the Breathalyzer® machine malfunctioned or the test results were lost, the prosecutor may decide not to pursue the case because crucial evidence would be missing or substantially weakened.

Because the prosecutor's job is to serve justice in the public interest and not only to win every possible case, policy considerations are always part of the decision to prosecute a particular defendant. The defendant might have mental or physical problems that make a pretrial diversion program, like alcohol or drug treatment or a suspended prosecution, a better option than trial. Finally, a prosecutor must consider the limited resources of his or her office when choosing which crimes to pursue.

Prosecutors represent the government — the city, county or state — in drunk-driving cases

The filing of a complaint or other official document by the prosecutor officially starts the drunk-driving court case. The prosecutor appears at the defendant's initial hearing before a judge to represent the government with regard to pretrial release issues like bail. If the prosecutor has no objection to the defendant's release before trial, bail is usually allowed.

At trial, the prosecutor is allowed to go first and presents the government's case against the defendant. The government must prove each element of the drunk-driving charge beyond a reasonable doubt based on relevant, credible evidence elicited through the testimony of competent witnesses. In drunk-driving cases, the arresting officer is generally one of the key witnesses for the prosecution. The prosecutor also participates in requesting or objecting to jury instructions given by the judge at the end of the trial, although jury trials are not available in all drunk-driving cases. The prosecutor may also be called on to defend the government's sentencing recommendation, if there is a dispute over the appropriate sentence to be imposed.

Speak to a drunk-driving defense lawyer

Prosecutors have a lot of power and influence in drunk-driving cases. They take the case from the police and decide whether to pursue it in court; they represent the government in court and pursue a conviction; and they may recommend a particular sentence, if the defendant is found guilty. Prosecuting criminal cases is what these government lawyers do day-in and day-out. Accordingly, if you have been charged with drunk driving, it is very important that your lawyer is smart, tough and experienced. Contact Fitzpatrick Hagood Smith & Uhl LLP in Dallas, TX, now to speak to a knowledgeable drunk-driving defense attorney.

Copyright © 2015 FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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