How Does an OWI Case Work? (Guide)

An OWI case usually begins with a police officer noticing some type of reason to pull you over while you are operating your vehicle. What happens next will determine whether you can go free or whether you will be arrested for drunk driving.

1. Reasonable Suspicion to Pull You Over

The police must have reasonable suspicion to pull you over in the first place. Conduct that rises to the level of reasonable suspicion could be erratic driving, swerving, disobeying traffic signals, speeding, etc. Once the officer finds reasonable suspicion, he will pull you over for questioning.

2. Field Sobriety or Breathalyzer Test and Arrest

Once police have reasonable suspicion to pull you over, they may ask questions or make observations that will help them determine if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This may include intoxicating smells, slurred speech, blood shot eyes, etc.

If the police have reason to believe you are under the influence, they may administer a field sobriety test or a breathalyzer test. If the results of the field tests or breathalyzer test indicate you are intoxicated, the officer has probable cause to arrest you for operating while intoxicated (OWI).

3. Taken to Police Station for Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Test

If the police have probable cause to arrest you on suspicion of OWI, you will be brought into the station for Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) chemical test on a device called a Datamaster. You will be detained until you are sober (usually overnight). At this point, you will either be arraigned or released pending arraignment.

4. Arraignment: First Court Appearance to Enter Plea and Hear Charges Against You

An arraignment is your first court appearance after being arrested. At the arraignment, you will be read the charges brought against you, the potential penalties, and your rights, including the right to an attorney. Many times a defendant is present at an arraignment without an attorney, although ZAYID LAW recommends they attend on your behalf to ensure your rights are protected from the inception of your case.

5. Pretrial Conferences: Exchange evidence and negotiate

The pretrial conference will be scheduled no later than 45 days after the arrest. You and your attorney will meet with the prosecutor to exchange evidence and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case. I have extensive experience identifying evidentiary issues in the prosecutor’s case that may result in a more favorable outcome during the pretrial conference. The pretrial conference also serves as an opportunity to negotiate plea bargains, if it is determined that a deal may be most beneficial for your case and your circumstances. If the case is not dismissed, or the parties cannot agree on a plea, the case will proceed to trial.

6. Trial

The trial process begins with jury selection, or what is known as Voir Dire.” If the OWI is charged as a misdemeanor, seven jurors are selected from the jury pool. If the OWI is charged as a felony, 13 jurors are selected. Once a jury is impaneled, the trial will begin. The prosecutor puts on his/her case first, because the government has the burden of proof. The standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which means the prosecutor must prove every single element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are convicted, you will be sentenced soon thereafter. If you are found not guilty, you are free.