DUI trials in Rhode Island are extremely complex matters that should only be handled by the most skilled and experienced DUI defense attorneys. Most experienced prosecutors will acknowledge that a criminal DUI trial in Rhode Island is typically more complex than a standard murder trial. This is because Rhode Island DUI trials are a complex combination of scientific evidence, detailed and difficult to understand statutory provisions, and police officer testimony. Whoever you hire to handle your Rhode Island DUI case, they need to be extremely proficient in each of the three areas referenced above. Below, I will explain the main phases of a criminal Rhode Island DUI trial.
Phases of a Rhode Island DUI Trial
When a Rhode Island DUI case proceeds to trial, 9 times out of 10 the case will be heard in the Rhode Island District Court. Cases that proceed to trial in the Rhode Island District Court are decided by a sole Judge who hears the evidence, makes credibility determinations, and determines whether the prosecution has met its burden of proof. The burden of proof in all criminal cases is beyond a reasonable doubt.
During the first phase of a Rhode Island DUI trial, the prosecution has the ability to put in what is called their case-in-chief. They can call any and all witnesses that they deem necessary to prove their case. During this time, the Defense has the opportunity to cross-examine these witnesses in an effort to draw out defense theories or to impeach credibility.
Defense Motion to Dismiss
At the close of the Prosecution's case-in-chief, the Defense can request that the Judge dismiss the case at this time. The legal standard applied by the Judge to this type of motion is one of beyond a reasonable doubt. The Defense will typically make legal arguments requesting that the Judge dismiss the DUI charge at this time due to the insufficiency of the evidence presented thus far by the prosecutor to meet their burden of beyond a reasonable doubt. If the Judge declines to dismiss the charges at this time, the Defense must decide whether it wishes to present a case and/or testimony.
If the Rhode Island DUI charge is not dismissed by the Judge, then the Defense must make a determination about whether they will present any witnesses, evidence, or if the Defendant will testify in his own defense. If the Judge has denied the Defense Motion to Dismiss, and the Defense presents no new or additional evidence, then the Judge must find the Defendant guilty of the DUI charge. Therefore, it is critical that all exclupatory evidence be available and introduced into evidence by the Defense at this time.
In the unfortunate scenario that a Judge (or Jury) has returned a guilty verdict in a Rhode Island DUI case, then the case moves to the sentencing phase. In sentencing, the Judge will hear from the Defense Attorney, and possibly the Defendant themselves, regarding what punishment is appropriate under the circumstances. The Rhode Island DUI laws call for many mandatory minimum penalties. However, after trial the Judge has wide discretion to sentence the Defendant to anything from the absolute minimum possible penalty up to the maximum possible jail sentence. Your Attorney should be prepared to argue in sentencing any mitigating factors that may exist the justify keeping any penalties as low as possible in sentencing.
If you have been found guilty of a Rhode Island DUI charge and sentenced, you have a very short opportunity to appeal that verdict and sentence. If you were found guilty in the District Court, you can appeal 'de novo' to the Rhode Island Superior Court where you could have the opportunity to have your case heard by a Jury or a Judge if you did not want a jury trial. However, if your case was heard in the Superior Court your appeal would be to the Rhode Island Supreme Court and it would only address appellate issues, you would not be permitted to re-litigate the facts of your case.