Pros and Cons of DUI Plea Bargains in California

Should you accept a plea bargain in a DUI case? The answer depends upon the facts of the case, the bargain that is offered, and your willingness to accept risk.

Although some plea bargains allow defendants to avoid a DUI conviction, others involve pleading guilty to some form of an impaired driving charge. Nobody who is accused of a crime should give up their constitutional right to a jury trial unless they view the benefit of a plea bargain as outweighing the opportunity to be acquitted.

Some people are risk-averse. Others are more willing to gamble on the outcome of a trial. How you weigh risks against rewards is a key factor that will govern your decision to accept or reject a plea bargain.

Advantages of a DUI plea bargain

A plea bargain works to your advantage if:

  • you are likely to lose a DUI trial and
  • the punishment imposed after trial will probably be more severe than the punishment that is offered as part of a plea bargain.

You need to balance those two factors against each other. There is always a risk of losing a DUI trial, just as there is always a chance of winning one. The more likely you are to win, the greater should be the benefit you receive in exchange for a guilty plea.

If you are likely to receive the same punishment after a guilty verdict that you would receive after pleading guilty, your only incentive to give up your right to a trial is to save time and money. While saving money is an advantage of accepting a plea bargain, it should rarely be a reason for you to give up your right to a trial. If the outcome after a trial will probably be no worse than the outcome after a guilty plea, why not roll the dice? If the jury finds you not guilty, you have gained a huge benefit without risking anything.

Prosecutors understand that equation. They are usually willing to negotiate in order to avoid the risk of losing a trial. The more they fear losing, the more incentive they have to offer a favorable plea bargain. That’s why it always makes sense to negotiate from a position of strength with the assistance of a DUI defense lawyer who has a track record of winning.

Plea bargains that prosecutors can offer include dismissal of some charges, a reduction of the charge to a less serious offense, or a recommendation that the judge impose a lenient punishment. Plea bargains begin to look attractive when the benefit of pleading guilty outweighs the risk of a harsher outcome after a trial.

Certainty of outcome is the other significant advantage of accepting a plea bargain. When you know what to expect, you can begin to plan your life to accommodate those consequences. When you take your case to trial, you do not know what the result will be until the jury returns its verdict. If the jury finds you guilty, you still will not know the result until the judge imposes a sentence. That lack of certainty can be stressful. Some people prefer to get on with their lives by accepting a plea bargain.

Disadvantages of plea bargains

The right to be presumed innocent until a jury decides that the evidence proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is among the most important rights that define the American system of justice. No person accused of a crime should lightly give up that right.

When you accept a plea bargain, you know you will be found guilty. If you take your case to trial, a jury might find you not guilty. Even when the evidence of guilt seems strong, juries sometimes acquit the defendant. In some cases, the prosecutor drops the ball. In others, the jury does not like the arresting officer or other key prosecution witnesses. Sometimes jurors are afraid that they might be charged with DUI after having a couple glasses of wine with dinner and they vote to acquit because they think DUI laws are unfair.

Losing the presumption of innocence is the great disadvantage of a DUI plea bargain. When you decide to force the prosecution to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, you give yourself a chance to avoid all the consequences of a DUI conviction. You need to think carefully before you make that decision, benefiting from the advice and wisdom that an experienced DUI defense attorney can provide.