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Should I Accept a DUI Plea Bargain?

With today’s over stuffed court calendars, the plea bargain has become the most common way to settle criminal cases. 90% of criminal cases are settled by a negotiated plea agreement. The prosecution wants to thin out their docket with convictions and the defendants often want to get their case over with and move on. However common they are, accepting a plea bargain may not be the best outcome in DUI cases.

Defendants may be trading away certain freedoms in exchange for very little, especially if there is a chance to completely avoid a conviction. Hiring a competent defense attorney is the first step in determining whether you should accept a guilty plea in a DUI case.

If you’re wondering whether to accept a plea bargain in a DUI case, it’s likely you know what it means to make a plea agreement. In short, the accused in a case agrees to plead guilty to the charge in exchange for a less severe punishment than the prosecution would seek if the case went to trial. For DUI cases, this may mean agreeing to plead guilty to a lesser charge that carries weaker penalties.

It may mean pleading nolo contendere (“no contest”). The defendant doesn’t admit guilt with the plea, they are merely stating that they will not contest the charge.

The prosecutor may recommend the minimum sentence in exchange for the plea, such as a fine, or may be willing to recommend you participate in a pre-trial diversion program. Pre-trial diversion programs in California are usually only eligible to first or second-time offenders with an otherwise clean criminal record.

You would be required to attend mandatory alcohol rehabilitation meetings (for a fee) or engage in some kind of community service for several months. You will also have to stay out of trouble with the law for a year, placed on probation and pay a significant fine.

Under California law, you may plea to a charge called “wet reckless.” This is like a step up in severity from reckless driving. It carries the same weight as does a DUI with the auto insurance companies, but the misdemeanor charge yields lighter penalties. If get another DUI within 10 years, the wet reckless will be considered your first DUI for sentencing purposes, exposing yourself to greater penalties.

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Staying out of jail may be your priority, and no one would blame you. However, there is a downside to consider when wondering whether to plead guilty to a DUI charge. You will have a conviction on your record if you aren’t afforded the chance to enter a pre-trial diversion program. This can affect your ability to obtain employment later in life.

You will also lose the right to vote if you plead guilty to a felony, and you will lose the right to own firearms in some jurisdictions. Having a criminal record may even factor in when others decide whether you can rent an apartment or apply for a loan.

An experienced criminal attorney will be able to help you determine whether to accept a plea agreement with the prosecutor. The attorney will help you negotiate the best deal you can get should you agree to take the deal, and will be on hand to represent you at trial should you change your mind.

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