A Driving Under the Influence (DUI) plea bargain is a necessary and important component of the driving under the influence, or DUI justice system.
The term “plea bargain” refers to an agreement in a DUI case wherein the prosecution and the defendant agree to resolve the case against the defendant, without going to trial.
In a typical misdemeanor DUI plea agreement, the defendant will usually agree to plead guilty to a lesser offense such as reckless driving, careless driving, or plead to fewer offenses.
Why Are Plea Bargains Made?
In most cases, a DUI plea bargain agreement benefits both sides:
- The prosecutor has legal control over their case and can avoid taking valuable time and resources preparing for trial; and
- The defendant avoids exposure to harsher penalties in exchange for saving valuable money and resources in attempting to defend against charges in which there may be little chance of acquittal at trial.
Another benefit of accepting plea bargains offered by prosecutors is that they can help you avoid more costly and time-consuming proceedings.
For example, if you choose to fight the charges, your suspended license could remain suspended while you wait for a court date. In addition, you’ll have to take time off from work for court appearances and that could put your job at risk.
What Does Plead No Contest Mean?
A “No Contest” Plea Agreement is a formal agreement in a criminal case which the defendant enters into with the prosecutor.
A no contest plea in a DUI case can have various terms, such as fines, DUI classes, and points on a driver’s license. However, pleading no contest usually includes an agreement that the defendant not plead guilty to the original charge, but rather plead guilty to a lesser charge.
It is important to understand and weigh all of your options before deciding whether or not to take a plea bargain. This is because when a person pleads no contest, they are waiving their constitutional right to a trial.
What is an Example of a DUI Plea Bargain?
Sometimes in a first-time DUI offense, if the driver’s BAC (blood alcohol concentration) was close to or below the legal limit, then they might be eligible for a plea bargain offer.
Some examples of DUI plea bargains can include:
- Potentially not having a criminal record;
- Reduced fines;
- Reduced court fees
- Shorter license suspension time frame;
- Reduced jail time since a judge is more likely to abide by the terms of the plea agreement than
- imposing their own sentence;
- Possibly fewer points assessed against your license;
- Fewer alcohol education classes; and
- Avoiding an ignition interlock breathalyzer system in your vehicle
If you are offered a reduced sentence, you may pay less in fines, avoid jail time, and your license suspension may be shorter.
Occasionally, a plea bargain comes with certain stipulations such as preventing yourself from driving during certain hours or only driving when it is considered necessary. For example, driving to work, to the grocery store, or to doctor appointments.
It’s important to make sure you understand the plea bargain contract fully, and that it is something that you can accept long term before you take advantage of the offered DUI plea bargain.
You should keep in mind that if you accept any kind of plea bargain rather than taking your DUI charges to trial by pleading guilty, many states require that you provide a statement as to why you feel that you should receive such a deal.
For example, if someone was arrested for DUI with a passenger in the car, they would have to explain in their statement as to why they believe that reducing their charge is an appropriate sentence.
In some instances, if you fail to give an explanation or your explanation isn’t satisfactory to the court, they may not offer any sort of plea bargain at all.
Does The Judge Have To Accept The Plea Agreement?
Any agreement must be subject to approval of the court before it becomes effective. An important consideration is that a judge is not bound by the terms of a DUI plea bargain if in the judge’s opinion the terms of the plea are not appropriate.
If, pursuant to a plea bargain, the defendant pleads guilty to a misdemeanor or lesser offense, the terms of the negotiations will be entered upon the record of the court and the judge will sentence the defendant pursuant to the terms of the negotiations.
When Should a Plea Bargain Be Made?
Generally speaking, a plea deal can be made at any time after the arrest. Typically, this occurs during the discovery phase of the case or when both sides share evidence and witness lists with each other and then plan their strategies accordingly.
However, if your lawyer is attempting to negotiate a plea bargain for you but hasn’t yet been able to do so, it is important to speak with them about when they might expect an agreement will be reached.
There are times when a defendant may wish to accept responsibility for their actions and enter into a plea agreement too early in the proceedings in order to receive a potentially reduced sentence.
If your attorney feels that your chances of winning at trial are high and wants more time before accepting a plea bargain, then that’s something to consider and counsel with your attorney on. On the other hand, if they don’t think it’s likely that you will win and believe the benefits of a plea deal outweigh the risks, then you could allow them to negotiate a plea bargain on your behalf.
After any plea bargain is reached, both parties usually must be present during the court proceedings in order for the judge to give their opinion on whether the plea agreement is fair.
If you have reason to believe that pursuing a plea deal would be beneficial for either yourself or another individual, consulting with an attorney may help you understand what options are available and how feasible they are likely to be.
Going To Trial vs. Accepting a Plea Bargain
If you do decide to go to trial it’s important to note that if you lose, you may be given the maximum sentences for a DUI conviction. A DUI first offense is considered a misdemeanor, and most states set the maximum fine at $1,000 and the maximum imprisonment term for a time not to exceed six months.
In addition, it’s common for a state’s Motor Vehicles Division upon notification that you’ve been arrested for DUI to proceed with suspending your driver’s license. You are entitled to a hearing to contest their decision.
If you win the hearing, then your license will not be suspended per the DMV; however, at trial a judge may suspend your driver’s license as part of your sentencing.
Do I Need An Attorney for Help with DUI Plea Bargaining?
If you have been charged with Driving While Intoxicated, a DWI defense attorney who represents people in your situation can help guide you through this process and represent you in court.
Because of the penalties that are part of most plea agreements, it is important that you have an DUI attorney who can help you negotiate for the best possible agreement given your circumstances.
When negotiating a plea agreement, especially for something as serious as a DUI, you need an experienced attorney to help make sure your best interests are represented in the agreement.