Step by Step California DUI Guide: Plea Bargain

This is part three of a step by step guide to help those recently arrested for DUI charges in California. All of the steps are available here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

DUI plea bargaining is one reason that those who have been recently arrested for DUI in California can benefit greatly from speaking with an experienced attorney.  If there is too much evidence for your case to be dismissed and not enough evidence for prosecutors to easily convict you of DUI, there may be an opportunity to take advantage of a mutually beneficial agreement with the prosecution.

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A DUI plea bargain is an agreement between a defendant and prosecutors that is endorsed by the court. A DUI prosecutor’s job is to use all of the evidence available in any given case to prove that the charges brought against the defendant can be sustained beyond a reasonable doubt. This is known as the prosecution’s burden of proof. The prosecution is charging you with DUI, so it is their responsibility to prove that you did so beyond a reasonable doubt.

Why Prosecutors Present and Accept Plea Bargains

There are several reasons why the prosecution may agree to a plea bargain with the defense. As a previous District Attorney for the County of Riverside, I know all too well how the prosecution prepares for a DUI case. An experienced attorney who has in-depth knowledge of the prosecutions needs and goals while prosecuting DUI cases has an advantage over those without prosecutor experience. Many times, whether or not you accept a plea bargain should be based on your willingness to accept relatively minimal charges compared to the maximum potential penalties that you may be ordered to serve.

If the prosecution feels that you and your attorney are in a good position to go to trial and fight for a not guilty verdict, prosecutors will more often than not be willing to make a deal. If there is a great deal of evidence that solidifies the prosecution’s burden of proof and you are not well represented, there is little incentive for a prosecutor to avoid a trial. Each alleged DUI offender’s circumstance will need to be fully evaluated prior to a DUI arraignment to ensure that the defense and his or her legal counsel are aware of their position to negotiate.

Is a Plea Bargain Right for Me?

For those faced with DUI charges, accepting or not accepting a DUI plea bargain should be based on the defendant’s willingness to accept or reject risk. Plea bargains are a way in which your future is negotiated in a court of law. If you are willing to risk the maximum penalties for a DUI violation by going to trial, then a plea bargain is not for you. You should only accept a plea bargain if you and your attorney feel that there is not a very good chance of convincing a jury that you were not driving under the influence or the prosecution is not willing to accept a favorable plea bargain. It is very difficult to determine whether or not a plea bargain is good enough without skilled legal representation. Circumstances may exist that can be used to pressure the prosecution into providing a better deal.

For example, breathalyzers that detect blood alcohol content are commonly used to detect a person’s level of alcohol intoxication during a DUI investigation. The effectiveness and accuracy of a breathalyzer can be easily compromised by the person who is operating the breathalyzer or by the manufacturer. If the prosecution is trying to convict a person whose BAC was barely more than that allowed by California (0.08%), there is a very high likelihood that a skilled DUI attorney will be able to convince a jury that it was possible for the breathalyzer to have produced a false reading. This would make the prosecution’s chances of convicting you significantly less likely, giving you more negotiating power to obtain a favorable plea bargain.

Is My Plea Bargain The Best It Can Be?

Deciding whether or not your available plea bargain is good enough to avoid a trial can be a very difficult decision. A very favorable plea bargain for one person can be unacceptable to another. When evaluating plea bargains with my clients, I tend to obtain what I believe to be the very best plea bargain available and then provide my client with the available plea bargain and the maximum penalties that could be ordered if a not guilty verdict was pursued but not achieved. Personally, I relish the opportunity to celebrate a hard-fought victory after a long trial, but the risk of losing, no matter how small it is, is a risk that I do not take lightly. Although there are times when trial is appropriate, as well as necessary to achieve a just result, our experience and reputation in the courtroom has afforded us the leverage to negotiate on behalf of our clients without actually fighting in a courtroom. The only person who should decide whether or not a plea bargain is good enough to avoid a trial is the person facing charges.

Simply put, if you are willing to accept the possibility of losing your case and facing maximum penalties, there is no plea bargain that the prosecution could offer that will satisfy your needs. Carefully assess your options and make the decision that feels right to you. Just make sure that you are fully aware of your options and are being counseled by someone who is in the best position to explain your options to you.


California DUI Jury Trial

If you have decided to accept a plea bargain, you should be fully aware of the punishments you will face and your DUI proceedings are now over. If you decide to fight your charges and pursue a trial, your case is just getting started. For more information about what happens during a California DUI jury trial or any other stage of the process, click on the following links.