hmmmm..... the defense attorney says this is rigging the court against people accused of DUI's. on the other hand the supreme court judge setting the rules says the rules will favor the defendant. who can we trust??????

DUI courts overhauled to be faster

Michael Kiefer The Arizona Republic Jan. 6, 2006 12:00 AM

The Arizona Supreme Court thinks it takes too long for DUI cases to get through the court system.

On Thursday, Chief Justice Ruth McGregor unveiled a series of recommendations to speed up the process.

Those recommendations lean on prosecutors, law enforcement and judges to smooth out and standardize DUI procedures and to make sure they are done in a timely fashion. And they lean on defense attorneys by cutting short some legal tactics.

"We knew there was big discrepancy in how long it took DUI cases to get through the system," McGregor said.

And so McGregor is establishing pilot programs to test new rules and timetables that may eventually become statewide rules.

Among them:

Setting firm trial dates and establishing the availability of witnesses early in the process to avoid trial delay.

Requiring defendants to attend all pretrial conferences.

Requiring law enforcement agencies to file citations within 10 days of issuing them.

Researching post-conviction treatment methods so defendants don't repeat the crime.

Training judges, court staff and probation officers in case management.

According to court statistics, nearly 38,500 driving-under-the-influence cases were filed last year in Arizona. Because most are misdemeanor offenses, they are tried or settled in "limited jurisdiction courts," that is, in municipal courts before a city judge or in the county's justice courts in front of a justice of the peace.

When McGregor took office in June, she announced that she would continue the high court's ongoing overhaul of the state courts by focusing on DUIs. She immediately appointed a committee composed of judges and court administrators to study DUIs in Arizona. Among the committee's findings was that only 66 percent of cases made their way through the courts within 120 days and 81 percent within 180 days.

McGregor wants to increase the percentage so that 90 percent of DUI cases are finished within 120 days and all of them within 180 days.

But that requires cooperation among several agencies.

"DUI is really a complex charge," said Jerry Landau, a Supreme Court employee who headed the research committee, "complex in its proof, complex in its litigation and complex in its moving parts. We have to work to get these moving parts to move better together."

Landau believes the proposed rules actually work in favor of defendants.

"It helps no one to let the case linger," said Landau, who spent 24 years as a county prosecutor. "You want to get the defendant through the process as quickly as possible."

That speed gives security to the public because the defendant is more quickly found guilty or innocent, Landau said, and gets quicker help for the defendant.

But Phoenix defense attorney Joey Hamby said the proposals work against defendants.

"It makes it more difficult for defense counsels, that's for sure," he said.

It's a legal truism that time is on the side of the defendant and with time restrictions, defense attorneys will have less time to obtain records and interview experts for both sides.

Hamby said that the intent of requiring defendants to appear with their attorney at each court date makes them lose time from work and encourages them to give up and plead guilty to get it over with.

The court recommendations have no authority to speed up other parts of the process, such as results of blood tests. In some cases charges aren't filed until the blood-alcohol test comes back from the lab, which can take four months.

McGregor did not say which courts would be chosen for the pilot programs other than to imply that they would be in rural areas. Landau said there would be fewer than 10

"I think it's great to see that our Supreme Court is getting involved because Arizona statistics are going up," said Sharon Sikora, who founded a Valley chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 1982. "Hopefully, people will get the message that people are dying."

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