DUI Plea Bargains: Negotiating a Better DWI Penalty or Charge
Key factors that affect DUI plea negotiations
What is a DUI plea bargain? A plea bargain in a DWI case is a “deal” made with a prosecutor, where a defendant will enter a guilty or no contest plea to the DUI, or plead guilty to a lesser offense, to receive a less severe punishment. In exchange, the defendant will give up his or her right to a jury trial to defend himself against the original crime charged. For example, some DUI cases in some jurisdictions can be plead down to reckless driving, which carries a less severe penalty than a DUI conviction. For people who do not want to take a gamble, a DUI plea bargain is an attractive alternative to the risks that losing at trial may impose.
When are plea bargains available in DUI cases? Most states do not have rules that dictate the time during which plea bargains may be offered. However, some courts do set limits as to when they will entertain or accept plea bargains in DUI cases. Most judges in most states have the ability to reject or refuse to accept any plea bargain. Some state, Oregon for example, actually have laws that prohibit plea bargaining in DUI cases. This is, however, more the exception than the rule. In states that allow plea bargaining, it can typically be offered and entered at any time.
How are plea bargains obtained? Some DUI prosecutors include an initial plea offer when they send the police report to the DUI defense lawyer. Others want to wait for at least a month into the case to make sure that a complete background check can be done to discover any prior convictions or arrests that might impact the type of plea bargain they offer. The initial plea offer is often times far from the best offer available. This is more typically the case when the initial offer is unsolicited. Some prosecutor’s offices have strict plea bargain guidelines to ensure that every case is dealt with the same. For example, some use alcohol levels as cutoffs. For example, a prosecutor’s office might offer you 1 day in jail for a first offense if you are at a .100 or under, but might ask for 5 days in jail if you are above a .100 but under a .130. Experienced local DUI lawyers will be familiar with the general plea bargaining policies of various city and state prosecutor’s offices.
When a plea offer in a DWI case is not dictated by policy, DUI attorneys can be extremely effective in securing favorable offers through plea negotiations. Typically, in order to negotiate something favorable for you, your attorney will need to have some leverage. The best leverage available to secure a good DUI deal is an experienced DUI attorney with a reputation for fighting cases and winning. When this kind of attorney investigates your case and finds something that he or she can show the prosecutor which could be considered a “hole” or “gap” in the State’s case, good plea bargains tend to materialize.
When do plea offers expire in DUI cases? As long as the expiration of a plea is not dictated by law, an offer to compromise in a DUI case can remain open as long as the offering party is willing to hold it open. This means that in most cases, prosecutors can put an expiration date on a plea to attempt to force you to make a decision. Often times, certain milestones are used. Examples are, the day before trial, the status conference, the last pretrial conference, before any substantive motions are filed, and many other possible events in the timeline of a DUI case.
A plea bargain expiration date can turn into a game of “chicken.” Most prosecutors would rather resolve your DUI case through a plea bargain. This is especially true when you are represented by an attorney who the prosecutor knows is good and who will take them to trial if necessary. Letting a plea expiration date pass (and therefore, at least nominally, the plea to expire) could result in the prosecutor coming back to the bargaining table and sweetening the deal. Of course, it could have the opposite effect as well. Good local defense attorneys have a good sense of how much wiggle room might be left in any given DUI plea offer, so it makes sense to listen to your attorney’s reasons for either advising you to accept a plea, or reject it in hopes of getting something better.
What can a plea bargain in a DUI case accomplish? The answer to this question depends, largely, on what state your case is in. Whether a plea agreement can be reached, and the terms of the agreement, will depend on the particular circumstances of your case and the jurisdiction you are in. Some states have mandatory minimum punishments that cannot be negotiated or negated. The existence of sentence enhancement factors present in your case may prevent a plea agreement from being available to you.
Before entering any kind of plea it is highly recommended that you at least consult with an experienced attorney. Explain the facts and circumstances of your case to them fully, and then decide what the best course of action is for you.