Were you arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in Orange County? While you may not know what to expect from here on out, you can expect one thing: the prosecutor will likely approach you to “make a deal.” By deal, we mean plea deal.
With a plea deal, the prosecutor asks you to plead guilty to a specific offense. In return, the prosecutor makes concessions of his or her own, such as lighter penalties and sentencing. Sounds reasonable, but it’s not straightforward. Just because a deal is offered, it doesn’t mean the defendant should take whatever’s on the table.
What Every Defendant Should Know
The facts of DUI cases vary widely; for example, one case may involve a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and an accident involving injuries, whereas another case may be a first-time DUI offense involving borderline BAC, around .08% – the legal limit in California. Negotiations would be VERY different in these two cases.
Plea deals can be excellent tools for the defense because they provide the opportunity to negotiate a deal that is mutually beneficial, especially when the cards are stacked against a defendant. For example, in a simple, first-time DUI case where the BAC was close to .08%, the DUI defense attorney may seek a “wet reckless” plea deal, which involves lighter penalties than a standard DUI.
Common DUI plea deals, include:
- Pleading guilty to a less serious offense.
- Accepting a sentence with less fines and no license suspension.
- Dismissing the charges, in exchange for pleading guilty to another offense.
Plea deals can be offered by either side (the prosecution or the defense), it’s just a matter of whether an agreement is reached. If the odds are stacked against a client, we can approach the prosecutor and attempt to work out a deal. These negotiations can be formal; for example, during a “pretrial” or “settlement” conference in the judge’s chambers, or they can be informal and sometimes conducted by phone.
It’s All About Compromise
The prosecutor isn’t required to make a deal. However, prosecutors are motivated to keep court calendars less clogged, and to save court expenses. Essentially, the stronger the case against a defendant, the more he or she benefits from a negotiated plea. This is where defense council has to balance the client’s desires against the prosecutor’s. While compromise can be beneficial, don’t mistake this for weakness. We don’t believe in being bullied by a prosecutor into accepting a bad deal.
While the outcome of plea negotiations relies on the facts of the case, the skill of your attorney, and the prosecutor, whatever you do, don’t admit guilt to a police officer or the prosecutor before the deal is sealed, and don’t reveal your defense strategies. If you do, it’ll come back to haunt you in court.
Once a deal has been made, you and the prosecutor appear before the judge; this is where the prosecutor explains the details of the agreement. Judges usually accept plea deals, but if the judge doesn’t, we can ask to withdraw the plea and proceed to trial.