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Some DUI or DWI cases are resolved through plea bargaining, also known as plea deals. A plea bargain in a DUI is a negotiated resolution that avoids having to take your case to a trial. In some instances, a DUI case may advance to a jury trial rather than simply appearing before a judge. In this blog, we explore the various ways that plea bargains can impact your DUI case.
Understanding negotiations prior to a trial
In the United States, plea negotiations are a common way that criminal cases of all kinds are resolved, including some DUI offenses. There is a strong systemic motivation for prosecutors to offer plea deals to resolve DUI cases because the government lacks the resources to take every single case to trial. Imagine if every criminal case had to be taken to trial across America, the courts would be backlogged and unable to function. Defendants also have a strong motivation to accept plea deals to avoid the uncertainly of facing a possible, more severe sentence after a trial - such as jail time.
What is a plea bargain?
In a plea bargain, the prosecutor agrees to reduce the charges or lower the sentence in exchange for your guilty plea to resolve the DUI case pending against you. Only the prosecutor has the power to lower or change charges. Often reducing the charges to induce a defendant to accept a plea offer and get a case off the trial docket is in the state’s best interests. If your case is especially likely to go to trial or has complex factors, a skilled DUI attorney who evaluate the state’s case against you may help you achieve a more favorable plea offer over going to trial.
Charge reduction pleas
In charge reduction plea bargains, the prosecution agrees to lower the level of the charge against you in exchange for your plea to an offense of less severity than the original charge.
For example in New York, the charge of DWI, NY Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192.2 which is a misdemeanor offense is often plea-bargained down to the lower level NY Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192.1 driving while ability impaired, which is a noncriminal infraction.
In Connecticut, a skillful DUI lawyer may be able to convince a prosecutor to treat a felony-level second-time offender DUI charge in violation of CGS §14-227a, which carries a mandatory minimum 120 days in jail, as a lower level double first-time offender misdemeanor conviction which does not require any jail time.
Sentence reduction pleas
Sentence reduction plea deals are not as favorable as charge reduction pleas. In sentencing reduction plea offers the prosecutor offers to resolve your case with a promise that you will be sentenced to the mandatory minimum sentence instead of a more severe penalty that you might face if you took your case to trial and were convicted.
For example, in California, the penalty for a first time DUI includes a possible jail sentence of up to six months and a fine ranging from $390 to $1,000. To resolve a DUI case quickly, a prosecutor may offer a no-jail plea offer and a $390 fine, which is the lowest possible sentence for this offense.
Charge reduction pleas
Some jurisdictions may have policies in place that prohibit charge reductions in DUI cases. It is always preferable to obtain a charge reduction over a sentence reduction, and you should explore every possible opportunity to obtain a charge reduction. Charge reductions are better as they often are not “priorable,” meaning that they won’t count as a prior DUI conviction in the future look back period. Also, charge reductions often have a less severe impact on your driver’s license.
While a sentencing reduction plea agreement also has benefits in that it can take the uncertainly of jail time exposure off the table, these pleas often result in a DUI conviction means they are less desirable.
Will a plea bargain remove my ignition interlock device requirement?
If your plea bargain involves a mandatory minimum plea which includes an IID requirement then you will still need to fufill that requirement in order to meet the agreements of your plea bargain. Many states have all-offender laws that require IIDs even at the lowest charge. Since a plea bargain either offers acceptance of the minimum penalties, or asks for a lower charge, the IID requirement can still be very likely and will ultimately depend on on the impaired driving laws in place in your state.
How do I know if I should plea bargain?
Each state has different laws about DUI, and every case has its own specific facts, so your best course of action is to consult with an experienced DUI lawyer concerning the best plan for your case.