In the criminal justice system, plea bargains are used extensively for different reasons. Due to California’s large population, the Orange County courts are overloaded with criminal cases. Local judges encourage prosecutors to weed out the less serious cases, so there can be more room for the serious violent felonies.
One way that prosecutors reduce the heavy burden on court calendars is by pushing defendants to accept plea bargains, and driving under the influence is no exception.
With a plea bargain, the DUI defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge. Or, if the defendant is facing multiple charges, he or she may plead guilty to less counts. In exchange for the defendant’s guilty plea, he or she receives lower fines and a lighter sentence. Many view plea bargains as “win-win” scenarios.
SHOULD YOU TAKE THE DEAL?
Every DUI case is different, so the correct answer depends on the facts of the case. If you are innocent of your charges then by all means, you should fight your DUI charges. On the other hand, if you made a mistake and there’s overwhelming evidence against you, a plea bargain may be in your best interests.
Suppose it’s your fourth DUI offense in 10 years, and these are the facts of your case:
· Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was above .08%,
· Your four-year-old son was in the backseat during the arrest,
· You had an open bottle of beer in the car,
· You crashed your car into a parked car,
· You were also under the influence of Xanax, and
· You were driving 15 mph above the speed limit.
In the above scenario, you have several “aggravating factors” counting against you, which could lead to additional charges, such as having an open container of alcohol and child endangerment. Depending on the evidence, it may be worth fighting your case, but a plea bargain may also be a favorable option if you can eliminate a few of the charges.
WHAT IF THE EVIDENCE IS WEAK?
Sometimes a DUI defendant made a mistake, but the evidence is weak. Perhaps the arresting officer engaged in police misconduct, or perhaps there was no probable cause to initiate the traffic stop. Perhaps the lab mishandled the blood test and the evidence was compromised, or perhaps the breathalyzer was not properly calibrated.
When we discover errors in a case or when there is insufficient evidence to prove a client is guilty, a plea bargain may not be the best route to take. Instead, it may be better to challenge the prosecution’s evidence and get the case dismissed.
So, what about you? Should you accept or deny a plea bargain in your DUI case? It all depends on the charges, the facts of the case, your desires, and what would be in your best interests. Regardless of the specifics, it’s important to understand the ramifications of each alternative and to be flexible about your options because it all comes down to which defense strategy would benefit you the most.