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What is a Donald hearing?

In Arizona criminal cases, including DUI cases, a person accused has the right to know what kind of plea bargain is on the table (if any). They have the right to make an informed choice of whether to accept the agreement, or reject it and proceed to litigation or trial.

When there is an offer on the table, the Judge will often conduct what is known as a “Donald” hearing. In this hearing, the judge informs the defendant of the terms of the offer, the exact sentence he or she will get (or the sentence range), and also outlines the risks of not accepting the offer, including the minimum and maximum sentence he or she would receive if the deal is rejected and he or she is ultimately found guilty.

If the defendant, after hearing the offer and the downside of rejecting the offer then chooses not to accept the offer, he or she will not be able to complain that they didn’t know about the offer later, or that they were forced to go to trial.

The reality is that many criminal defendants in Arizona that reject a plea bargain and then lose at trial end up getting a greater penalty than the terms of the plea agreement called for. A Donald hearing is the Court’s way of protecting itself, the prosecutor and defense lawyer from a claim by a person convicted after trial that their right to be informed of a plea offer and the consequences was violated or ignored.

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