DUI Trials in Somerset
Typically, DUI charges are heard at the Somerset County District Court located in Princess Ann, which is the County seat of Somerset County. If they are charged with a DUI in Somerset County, the maximum penalty is a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine, they have the right to pray a jury trial and instead have their case heard in the circuit court for the Somerset County. There are no jury trials in district court. If a person pleads not guilty and wants to have their case tried in the district court, it is going to be in front of just one person, the judge.
Treatment of DUI Cases
A Somerset DUI cases are treated extremely seriously and that is true of almost every county. On the Lower Eastern Shore, it is typical for the prosecutor to only offer a plea to the DUI or the lesser included defense of DWI. It is rare for the prosecutor to offer a plea to some other related traffic offense.
Anybody charged with it needs to anticipate that the only plea offer that is going to be made to them is probably going to be one that is either for the DUI or the lesser included offense of the DWI.
There are several elements to the offense of a DUI. The prosecutor needs to prove and have evidence that proves every element of the offense of DUI. Those elements include that the defendant was operating a motor vehicle and at the time that they were operating the motor vehicle the driver consumed alcohol to the extent that the alcohol was greatly impacting the driver’s coordination. There are several elements proving that the person was the person behind the wheel and that the person was operating the car.
It is important to understand that the state does not have to prove that the person was driving. The law specifically states that they have to prove that the person was operating the motor vehicle, and that is a much broader term than driving. This is also where the breath test result becomes relevant, because if the driver chooses to take a breath test and the breath test result is a 0.08 or greater, that piece of evidence can be used to prove that the person was DUI.
Length of a Case
A typical Somerset DUI case will probably be around 45 days, but can longer. A defendant needs to understand that it is possible that their case will not be heard on the first trial date. Sometimes the state needs to postpone it or something happens and the court becomes unavailable. It is possible that their case could get postponed beyond the first trial date.
If a person decides to pray a jury trial, it is going to prolong the amount of time before they have their court date. If they pray a jury trial, they should anticipate that it is probably going to add another two months to have their case heard.
Common Forms of Evidence
Typically, the evidence is going to include the testimony of the Somerset law enforcement officer. That officer will be allowed to testify to all of his or her observations made at the time of the traffic stops, so the officer will be potentially testifying about everything he or her observed before even stopping the vehicle.
The officer will be allowed to testify about the defendant’s performance on field sobriety tests and any statements that the defendant made. Because the statements of the defendant are admissible, if they are constitutionally acceptable, any statements made by the defendant are admissible against the defendant in trial.
Sometimes the evidence includes a breath test result if the defendant chose to take a breath test. The evidence also could include testimony from other individuals who were witnesses. People may have observed the defendant operating the car or a motor vehicle accident related to the driver in that car, especially useful if the officer responded after the fact.
If it is relevant, the evidence might also include photographs. For example, the officer may have taken photographs of the inside of the vehicle which showed alcoholic beverage containers in the car. So, there could be a wide range of evidence that might be introduced in a DUI trial.