The Philadelphia court system is like a different world when compared to courts in the surrounding counties. From beginning to finish, the Philadelphia criminal justice system does everything in its own way. This sentiment applies to DUI cases as well.
First, a person charged with DUI basically goes straight to trial. With the exception of the first hearing date when the government lawyer passes police reports and lab reports to the defense, the court expects a defendant to be ready to proceed at the first trial listing. A DUI defendant has no right to a preliminary hearing, as is the case in the surrounding counties.
Each DUI will be assigned to a certain court room based on the type of testing that was done (i.e., blood or breath testing) and area where the arrest occurred. The first court appearance is usually in room 404.
Typically, the government will not have all of its witnesses ready at the first trial listing and will request a continuance. Other times, a well-trained DUI lawyer will recognize that the prosecution has not handed over all the necessary documentation (discovery) that is needed to assemble a strong attack on a DUI charge. In order to get this required information, a lawyer should be filing a motion to have a judge order the prosecution to provide it before the next court date. If the government fails to provide the ordered information, then the DUI charge may get dismissed.
An aggressive attorney should also file a motion to challenge the DUI car stop and/or arrest. Typically, Philadelphia police officers will not give field sobriety tests before arresting a driver for DUI. This means there may have been little reason to suspect a driver of being under the influence. If a judge grants a motion to challenge the car stop or arrest, then the DUI charge will have to be dismissed.
The breath tester in Philadelphia is the Intoxilyzer 8000. Most DUI arrests in Philadelphia involve breath testing. The breath results from this device can be challenged successfully. The accuracy of breath results can be affected by certain physical conditions, like reflux disease or prior expose to chemicals. In other instances, the police officers responsible for making sure the device is working properly (calibration officers) may not be doing their jobs properly.
If breath testing was not done, then the alternative method would have been blood testing. Philadelphia uses a private lab to test blood for alcohol and drug content. Serious trial preparation must be done with blood testing in order to understand if the lab made errors before or after testing. An attorney highly qualified in blood testing analysis should be consulted to challenge blood test results.
Finally, for those people facing time in jail for a minimum of 90 days or 1 year, the Philadelphia court system offers an alternative. Philadelphia is one of the few counties in Pennsylvania that has established a DUI treatment court. The treatment court provides an alternative to spending the entire minimum amount of time in jail. If a person wants to pursue treatment court, an attorney should be consulted concerning the intensive requirements of the program. Treatment court is usually not an attractive alternative to many people charged with DUI.