On TV, prosecutors always offer “deals” to criminal defendants—offers of a reduced sentence in exchange for pleading guilty. This is one part of the process that lawyer shows get mostly right. In real life, almost every DUI defendant will be offered a plea bargain, and it’s important to know whether it’s in your best interest to take it.
A plea bargain is a two-way agreement. You agree to plead “guilty” or “no contest” to a particular charge, and you receive an agreed upon sentence. If you don’t take the bargain, you go to trial. Both decisions have pros and cons.
Going to Trial
Going to trial means you will face a jury of 12 people drawn from the community. You will typically wait up to 45 days for your trial in California (35 if you are held in custody), though in some cases it could be longer. The trial itself will usually involve multiple days in court.
- Trial pros: You have a chance to win your case entirely. If you win, the DUI does not go on your record and you face no penalties. You also get your license back.
- Trial cons: You have no way of knowing whether you will win the trial, and if you lose, you don’t know what sentence you’ll receive. Additionally, trials can be expensive and stressful.
Taking the Deal
Taking the deal bargain means your case is done. You enter your plea, the judge follows the sentencing recommendation, and you never have to go to trial.
- Plea bargain pros: When you accept a plea bargain you know exactly what sentence you’ll get. You have the peace of mind of being done with the process and avoiding the expense of trial.
- Plea bargain cons: A plea bargain means you now have a DUI—or some other charge—on your criminal record. You have to serve the sentence, and your insurance rates will likely go up.
Clearly, a plea bargain is only worth it if it offers a clear advantage over the uncertainty of trial. That’s why it’s important to negotiate the best offer possible.
Getting the Best Plea Bargain in a DUI Case
It helps to look at a plea bargain as actual bargaining, like haggling over the price of a car. Of course, the two are very different—in a DUI case you’re bargaining over your future. But to a prosecutor, it’s a simple business transaction, and the normal rules of business apply.
Just like in any other negotiation, you’ll only get what you want if you come from a position of strength. The first offer the other side makes is rarely a good one. In most cases, a prosecutor’s first “deal” is nothing more than the standard sentence for your charge. He’s really just saying, “Sign this so I don’t have to bother with a trial.”
To get a better bargain you need leverage. This can come in several forms:
- Evidence that the blood or breath test was inaccurate
- Evidence that police statements are skewed or wrong
- Evidence that your rights were violated during the traffic stop, arrest or questioning
- A convincing alternative explanation for your breath test results—that a jury might buy
You can see that all of these approaches require either real evidence or good knowledge of the legal system. That’s why DUI defendants who hire an experienced DUI lawyer tend to get better offers than those who don’t. The lawyer knows how to put pressure on the prosecution and show them that their job won’t be easy. They give you bargaining power.
Types of Plea Bargains in DUI Case
In many cases, you will receive a better plea offer simply because you hired a lawyer. In others, your lawyer will go to bat for you and try to bring the prosecution down to a more acceptable offer.
The plea bargain can take three forms:
- An offer of a reduced sentence
- An offer of a reduced charge
Reduced charges are the most desirable, as it means you have no DUI on your record and may allow you to avoid license suspension or the worst DUI penalties. But the charge is normally only reduced in extreme circumstances, or if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was very close to the legal limit.
A reduced sentence means you still have a DUI charge on your record, but you may pay substantially less in fines, avoid jail time, or get your license back sooner than you otherwise would.
You should talk to a DUI lawyer about a plea bargain before your case goes any further. We can put you in touch with a lawyer who has the experience necessary to defend your case—and offers a FREE consultation. Simply fill out the form to the right and get your free consultation today.