In many states, the penalties for drunk driving can seem excessively harsh. The penalties for a DUI conviction can include jail time, a suspended license, probation, mandatory attendance at alcohol education classes, and community service.
Agreeing to a plea deal with the prosecutor could help you reduce the severity of these criminal penalties. However, pleading guilty means giving up your constitutional rights to fight the charges. Before you plead guilty to a DUI, make sure you understand your options. It would likely be in your best interest to discuss a potential plea bargain with a criminal defense attorney first.
A plea deal is a negotiated agreement between a prosecutor and a defendant. A plea agreement involves pleading guilty to the crime instead of taking your case to trial. The benefits for you include pleading guilty to reduced charges and a less severe sentence. This could mean going on probation instead of going to jail. For the state, plea bargaining avoids the time and resources of taking a case to trial.
However, by pleading guilty, you are giving up your constitutional protections. These include the right to:
For a DUI case, it is still up to the judge to accept a plea bargain. If you agree to plead guilty and the judge accepts it, your case will proceed to sentencing. For a DUI plea, sentencing may still include jail time, community service, fines, driver's license suspension, and DUI school. It all depends on what the prosecution is willing to offer in terms of a reduced sentence.
In some states, it's possible to reduce a DUI charge through a plea bargain to a "wet reckless" charge. In essence, this means, instead of pleading guilty to DUI, you plead guilty to reckless driving, and your record may indicate that the case involved the consumption of alcohol (thus, the term "wet reckless").
Some of the states with wet reckless laws include:
In most cases, you cannot be charged with a wet reckless. Instead, it is a negotiated charge that has lesser penalties compared to a DUI. Depending on the state, a wet reckless may still count as a prior offense when counting multiple DUIs. This means an arrest for driving under the influence after a wet reckless conviction may count as a second DUI, with increased penalties.
A wet reckless is a common plea charge because many drivers do not think they have a good case after getting arrested and the agreement means lighter penalties and avoiding a trial. However, not all states allow wet reckless pleas.
Another plea bargain option for some drivers is a DUI diversion program. Diversion programs generally provide for probation instead of jail time. You will generally have to plead guilty to the criminal charges and get deferred judgment or sentencing. There are a number of conditions you will still have to meet in a DUI diversion program, which may include:
If you complete the terms of your diversion program, the court may drop the criminal charges or expunge your record. However, if you violate the terms of the program, the court may immediately sentence you to jail. Make sure you understand the terms of the program before you accept the deal.
Not all states have DUI diversion programs. In many states, it's typically only available one time. Some states also specifically prohibit the expungement of drunk driving convictions. States with a DUI diversion program or deferred prosecution for a DWI include:
A plea agreement may seem like a good option when facing serious penalties. However, it may not be the best option in your case. An experienced DUI defense attorney can review your situation, identify the strengths in your defense, and answer your questions about the benefits and drawbacks of DUI plea bargains. There are several possible defense strategies with DUI cases, including:
Don't be coerced by the prosecutor's threats. The prosecutor wants a plea deal and may make it seem like there are no other options but to plead guilty. You have the right to consult with a DUI lawyer before you respond to the charges.
Pleading guilty or no contest to any crime carries consequences. Even beyond jail, fines, a suspended license, and driving restrictions, a DUI conviction can hurt your job or your relationship with your family, and it can damage your reputation. Make sure you understand your rights before pleading guilty to a DUI.