Legal processes shrouded in Latin terms make court confusing for someone facing Virginia DUI without an attorney who knows the legalese.
There really is no such thing as a simple driving under the influence (DUI) charge. Whenever the element of impaired driving is alleged, the potential consequences in the event of conviction can be so significant that it needs to be taken seriously.
The possible penalties only get worse if the circumstances of the crime alleged result in injury or death. With each escalation of charge the legal process can be more complicated. Combine that with the fact that the lexicon of the legal system continues to draw on archaic Latin terminology and procedural complexity can become even more difficult to decipher.
This seemed to be somewhat in evidence recently during reporting of a hearing related to the pedestrian death of Hanover County runner Meg Menzies. She was struck and killed while running along a Virginia roadway in January 2014. The suspect in the case, a Mechanicsville doctor, had been facing involuntary manslaughter and DUI charges ahead of the hearing. But in the wake of it, prosecutors announced that the DUI charge had been dropped.
Legalese can be misleading
Several news reports, including one on WRIC, observed that the prosecution had exercised what is called nolle prosequi in connection with the DUI charge. What that means in common language is that by virtue of prosecutorial discretion, the charge had been dropped.
But that doesn't mean the allegation of driving drunk has gone away. It merely means that the prosecution opted not to press ahead with the DUI charge so that all the focus can be put on the more serious involuntary manslaughter accusation. The prosecutor told the Richmond Times Dispatch that the factor of alleged alcohol impairment will still be an element of the case as he presents the involuntary manslaughter charge to a grand jury.
So, while it may have sounded like the defendant had somehow caught a break, it's more appropriate to view the development as a strategic move on the part of the prosecution.
Hearings are not trials
The recent hearing where all this happened was noteworthy for some details about the case that were brought forward. According to reports, Menzies' husband appeared as a witness at the hearing. He was running just ahead of his wife heading into traffic on the morning of the accident and described how an SUV driven by the defendant began to veer toward them.
He testified that he moved toward the center of the road to avoid being hit. His wife, meanwhile, headed for a ditch where she was struck.
In relation to the suspected drunk driving, an officer testified that blood alcohol content testing put the defendant's BAC level at 0.11 percent. The officer also testified that the doctor failed several field sobriety tests and seemed visibly impaired.
The defendant's attorney reportedly raised questions about the accuracy of the field sobriety tests and suggested his client's condition may have been related to recent surgery he had undergone.
What is apparent is that this case is very much in the early stages. A hearing does not a trial make. At the time this is written, the grand jury has not yet considered the case and no indictment has been issued.
The point for readers to take away from this is that regardless of what words are used, the legal process is a complicated one. Anyone facing a criminal charge should be sure that they have an attorney with a level of criminal defense experience in which they can be confident.
Keywords: drunk driving, DUI defense,