Plea bargains are very common in our criminal justice system and for a few reasons. For one, we have overcrowded courts with a lot of cases to be resolved. Secondly, we have so many inmates in our jails and prisons that judges and prosecutors have to prioritize cases and save room for the most dangerous criminals.
Third, when we can have offenders supervised in the community vs. in jail or prison, it saves taxpayers loads of money. So, the courts are certainly motivated to reduce the traffic and unclog busy court calendars, and plea bargains are instrumental in making this happen. Plea bargains are used in all kinds of criminal cases and DUI is no exception. So, how are DUI plea bargains made?
THE MAKINGS OF A DUI PLEA BARGAIN
Generally, what happens is the prosecutor and the DUI defense attorney have a discussion about the case and one of them offers a deal. These negotiations can be short or lengthy; however, they’re conducted after both sides have had the chance to investigate the case. But who decides to accept the deal? The person with the power to decide is the DUI defendant. He or she either decides to take the deal or reject it.
If a skilled DUI defense lawyer urges their client to accept a plea, it’s because the defendant would likely get a much harsher sentence if he or she were to go to trial. Also, defendants will usually accept deals if their attorneys recommend it.
WHAT IS THE JUDGE’S ROLE?
What typically happens is the prosecutor and DUI defense attorney will reach a plea bargain outside of court. But in some jurisdictions, the judge will be on the sideline, pushing both sides to reach an agreement. Sometimes, a judge will even facilitate the negotiation in his or her chambers. Or, the judge may guide both sides by suggesting an acceptable sentence.
“What is the judge’s role then?” The judge imposes the sentence on the case, while the prosecutor decides what charges to file against the defendant. The judge does have the power, however, to dismiss a charge if he or she thinks it’s wrong.
If a judge disagrees with a charge, the prosecutor can be compelled to change a charge or drop it if the defendant agrees to plea. If the plea bargain involves a sentence that has to be sentenced by a judge, the prosecutor is unable to guarantee the exact sentence unless he or she has the judge’s agreement.
Often, a prosecutor will recommend a bargained-for sentence without getting the judge’s agreement because the prosecutor knows from the judge’s track record and their personal experience that the judge will approve the recommended sentence.