Updated: Apr 20
THIS IS ONE OF the most popular questions asked.
Its usually accompanied by something like “I’ve no idea of court”, “I’ve never been to court” or “I’m totally unfamiliar with the process”.
You are not alone.
Almost everyone arrested for drink driving (or drug driving) has never been arrested before.
Most find the prospect of court almost terrifying.
“Petrified” is an expression I hear a lot.
But if you’re represented, your lawyer will do all the talking in court for you.
So, assuming you have received a summons (or charge sheet) what is the court process?
What is the meaning of charge sheets?
First, the paperwork.
There has to be some way to get you into court after you have been arrested.
After all nobody wants to spend a night in the cell before being brought to court the next morning, so how do police do it?
If you still refuse to sign the bond promising
to turn up to court the Judge has greater options,
one big one in particular.
That option means putting you in jail.
They have two options. The first is a summons.
This is usually delivered to your home by a Garda often months after you were arrested. This is the document most people have heard about. It is a sheet of paper containing your name, address, date of birth etc.
It contains other information too.
It also contains details of what it is you are supposed to have done and when (i.e. drink driving at a particular place on a particular date).
In the middle, in bold letters, you’ll be told the place you are supposed to go to (the address of the courthouse) as well as the date and time.
A charge sheet is similar but different.
It is more immediate.
Whereas a summons arrives at your door months after you were arrested, a charge sheet is something you get from the police once you -hopefully- leave the police station.
They give it to you. Again, like the summons, it contains details of the offence you are supposed to have committed, as well as the location and the date (usually the night of your arrest).
The process is a little different in one area: a charge sheet is accompanied by a second document called a Recognisances.
This document contains details of your future court appearance and must be signed by you before you leave the station.
Because the recognisances is a sort of ‘promise’ by you.
It’s effectively a written promise by you to turn up to court on the future date.
When you sign it, you are promising to turn up to court. If you didn’t turn up to court on that later date, the court would look at your non-appearance as a breach of your promise and would almost certainly issue a warrant for your arrest.
What if you decide not to sign it? After all if you don’t sign it and don’t turn up later on, you cant be accused of breaking your promise.
True, but if you don’t sign it you’re not getting out of the police station that night.
You see, if you decide not to sign it the police will hold you in the police station all night and bring you to court the next morning. If you still refuse to sign a bail bond promising to turn up to court on a future date the Judge has greater options, one big one in particular.
That option means putting you in jail.
That way they know for sure you’ll turn up on that later date because you’ll be arriving to court in a prison van and handcuffs.
Faced with these prospects 99.99% of people arrested unsurprisingly sign the recognisances form.
IT'S IMPORTANT TO understand the nature of a summons or charge sheet.
These documents are allegations only.
What I mean is that a summons or charge sheet is an allegation by the police that you broke the law in some way.
They are allegations only, they are not proof.
Proof of anything is only handed down by a court, not the police.
If you are given a charge sheet when you leave the police station it will require you to turn up to court on some date within the next 30 days.
Why would you get a charge sheet and not a summons?
There’s a good reason here.
If you’ve been arrested for drink driving and give a breath specimen, the result of that breath specimen will be available right away i.e. the machine that you blow into will print a reading immediately.
Once that reading exceeds the legal limit, the police will often give a person a charge sheet that requires them to turn up to court soon.
You’ll get a charge sheet because the police know what the result of the specimen is.
If you’ve been arrested for drink driving and give a blood or urine specimen, you will not get a charge sheet.
The reason you don’t is because that blood or urine specimen has to be sent to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety (the State laboratory) to be analysed.
This takes a number of days and you won’t get the result for a week or two in the post (the Bureau will write to you).
As the police don’t have the result of your blood or urine specimen when you’ve been arrested, they cant charge you with drink driving (because they don’t have scientific evidence that you were).
So, for blood or urine specimens they will release you and once they get the result from the Bureau they will proceed by summonsing you.
The summons process is considerably slower. You may not get a summons for many months after your arrest.
How many months after?
That’s impossible to say but I have spoken to clients who have not received a summons for a year or more after they were arrested.
COVID CAUSED MASSIVE problems with court lists throughout the country that still have not been resolved.
At that time (April 2020) the Courts Service (who issue summonses) halted the creation of new summonses until the effects of Covid could become known.
This was an attempt to prevent large groups of people turning up to court at a time when the dynamics of covid were unknown and shots and boosters had still to be invented.
Many thousands of cases were put back from 2020 into 2021. That knock-on effect into 2022 and 2023 is still being felt.
So, assuming you finally get the summons what happens then?
The summons will tell you the location and date of your court appearance. At this point you should get the help of a solicitor, but the process is relatively straightforward.
Just say you’ve been summonsed to appear on 4 July.
When you appear and the case is called your case will be adjourned right away to a second date, about 6-8 weeks away.
To allow the police to send you all of the statements and documentary evidence (known as “disclosure”) that they will rely on in their case against you.
You are entitled to see all of the evidence that and your case will not/cannot proceed until you have first seen the evidence against you.
On this first day the Judge will usually direct that disclosure be sent to your lawyer and will adjourn the case for a number of weeks. This is because the preparation of drink driving files involves a number of police officers and getting statements from all of them takes time.
The police tend to prioritise (understandably) more serious criminal matters (murder, sexual assaults, robberies etc) over drink driving cases.
Your case -while very important to you- is not as important to the police. There are other criminal cases that are far more serious and take precedence.
But this doesn’t mean that drink driving cases can be put back forever. That doesn’t happen anywhere. Everyone is entitled to have their case dealt with promptly (the legal term is “expeditiously”) and excessive delays will not be tolerated without significant explanation.
For the purposes of this story the Judge now adjourns your case until 4 September (two months after 4 July) so that the police can get the evidence to your lawyer.
a summons or charge is an allegation by the police
that you broke the law.
They are allegations only,
they are not proof.
Proof of anything is only
handed down by a court
Hopefully by day 2 your lawyer will have received the disclosure well before this date and you will have had plenty of time to discuss it.
Assuming that you have, on Day 2 the Judge will now want to know one thing: are you pleading guilty or not guilty?
If you have decided to plead guilty the case can be finished right there and then, on that second day.
If you decide to plead not guilty the Judge will then assign a trial date, a third day in court.
On this third date (the trial date) the case will be heard and -hopefully- finished.
Unlike Day 1 and Day 2, which are usually weeks apart, the trial date (Day 3) is often months after Day 2.
The reason for this is because every conceivable date before that distant Day 3 is already full with trials. The backlogs and delays have led to lengthy court lists everywhere.
So, in our example above of 4 July and 4 September, your trial date is unlikely to be anytime before 4 December.
Things are rarely as straightforward as one case being concluded in three court days.
Often disclosure is not delivered by Day 2 (4 September in our example above) and the case is adjourned again to another date for the disclosure to be delivered to your lawyer.
The life of the case now has 4 dates, not 3.
In life accidents and chance are plentiful,
strange outcomes are the rule.
Court cases are often good examples of this.
So don't lose hope
In some parts of the country once a plea of not guilty has been entered, your case is adjourned to a different date to be given a trial date on that occasion.
The life of the case now has 5 dates.
Even if you get a trial date of 4 January, a witness may be sick on that date, and the case is adjourned.
The life of the case now has 6 dates.
Other problems can arise.
I had a case listed for hearing in Blanchardstown District Court in July 2021. On the morning of the trial the Garda emailed me to say that he had to attend a family emergency and could not attend court.
The case was adjourned to April 2022.
On the trial date the Garda reported sick.
We sought a dismissal of the charge, given that this was the second time the case was listed for trial, the second time that we had arrived to court and the second time that it had been marked for hearing.
The Judge refused and adjourned the trial to 2 March 2023.
When we turned up for trial on this date, we discovered that there was no Judge available to deal with the court lists on this date.
Our trial was adjourned -like everyone else’s that day- to 4 April 2024.
By the time this case has finally been heard our client will have had three separate trial dates during the course of almost 3 years.
THIS IS AN EXTREME example, and something like this is rare. But I share the story by way of example, to indicate that sometimes unforeseen events, things you hadn’t planned for, happen.
In general, the life of a court case has between 3-4 dates. But depending on unforeseen circumstances it may be 5, 6 or 7 dates.
The last date is the trial date, the day when the case takes place, when evidence is actually heard from witnesses. It is also the date when the case finishes.
Hopefully you win and if you do that is the end of it. But even if you don’t, you can appeal.
A lady I had advised rang me last Friday. She had just come out of court.
She had been arrested 18 months ago.
We had spoken a few times about the extreme stress that the case had caused.
The toll on her mental health had been significant.
She had never been in trouble before.
Her trial had finally taken place last Friday.
When she got to court she discovered the Garda who had arrested her was not there.
The Garda had thought the trial was on a different date.
The State looked to adjourn the case.
The Judge refused.
The Judge struck out the case.
In life, accidents and unusual occurrences are common.
Strange outcomes are the rule.
Court cases are often good examples of this.
So don't lose hope.