The DUI is a frightening prospect for most defendants. It is a charge that can lead to months of lost income, a mark on a criminal record, and possible jail time. Some people may not be completely familiar with all of the laws and procedures surrounding this type of charge. Rules of evidence have to be strictly followed and a certain procedure for arrests and detentions must be adhered to. Ignorance can especially be a problem when a defendant may not be aware of the laws and rules surrounding stages like the pretrial hearing. The pretrial hearing can be a key part of showcasing a person’s case to a judge and the possible strength of their legal arguments.
In Illinois, the most common form of pretrial hearing is the 402 conference. This type of hearing, named because of its place in the statute, refers to a procedure where the judge meets with the prosecutor and the defense attorney before a trial. At first, the defendant is arrested on the day or night of the offense and bail is set. They are assigned a court date and file motions at and before that first court date. In the process of early court appearances, a pretrial meeting is set up and a date is established. The judge may receive information from both sides that they would not have otherwise received outside of the trial setting. The judge takes these facts into consideration and makes a suggestion about a possible sentence to the defendant.
A defendant has no obligation to accept the results of the conference meeting. They can still request a trial and go to trial without the judge’s initial offering of a sentence being held against the defendant or the prosecution. The one tool that the defendant gives up through the 402 conference is the possibility to ask for a new judge because of bias or extra evidence. The conference meeting involves an assumption that the judge will look at a wide variety of evidence in order to make a preliminary decision. Many attorneys who have experience in this area know all of the particulars of these rules and boundaries.
If the defendant accepts the sentence offered by the judge, the prosecutor will in most cases do the same. The pretrial hearing can be helpful to determine what evidence from each side persuades the judge. If an individual believes that he or she has a considerable amount of evidence proving their innocence, the judge can either accept or reject their rationale in the 402 conference before even getting to the step of a trial. This pivotal first step helps a person determine their legal strategy and the chances that they will have in arguing their case. While individuals have a right to a jury trial in most cases, their arguments will be severely hampered if a judge does not buy them.
The pretrial hearing is most often done through outside counsel. However, it is possible for a person to attend their own hearing. This possibility exists because of laws that protect defendants who want to represent themselves. Defendants in states such as Illinois can file subpoenas, prepare depositions, and participate in pretrial negotiations just like outside counsel would otherwise be able to do. It is often not recommended for an individual to represent themselves in this situation.
For example, many people do not have the same level of legal training that an attorney does. They may not know the ins-and-outs of the law and they might make mistakes and omissions that a professional attorney would not make. However, they are not barred from the room. A person representing himself or herself can still make legal arguments and negotiate through the process of a 402 conference.
The law protects those who want to represent themselves at all levels of the legal process. However, just because a person can represent themselves does not mean they should. Individuals charged with minor crimes may be able to argue their case and possibly win in a low stakes environment. However, cases such as a DUI are different. A weak defense can lead to thousands of extra dollars in fines end time in jail that would not have happened with an outside attorney. Therefore, anybody charged with a crime this serious needs to know the law and the benefits of counsel at all levels of the legal process.