Being pulled over and arrested for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol in California can spark a whirlwind of emotions.
While it may be easy to sink into despair, thinking that this event will be a permanent mark on your record that will follow you around forever, a DUI charge may not always result in a conviction for the offense. There may be several valuable defense strategies available depending on the circumstances involved in the situation.
Before acting hastily, it’s useful to familiarize yourself with your options, including plea deals that could reduce the harshness of a DUI conviction’s penalties and consequences.
A conviction for a DUI can have long-lasting consequences for a driver. Besides the possibility of up to 6-months of jail time and a fine up to $1000 resulting from the offense, not to mention court fees, a conviction can result in a suspended driver’s license for up to 10 months, probation, and alcohol education classes. Moreover, it can involve installing an IID (ignition interlock device that checks for alcohol before enabling the vehicle to start) in the driver’s car for six months.
A DUI conviction is a criminal offense and ordinarily results in a misdemeanor charge. Still, if the DUI involved other incidents like another person’s injury, it can result in an enhanced charge upgraded to a felony. Yet, being arrested on suspicion of committing a DUI offense doesn’t mean you will be convicted or even see trial. This is where the help and experience of a qualified DUI defense attorney can be invaluable.
Several plea options can reduce the charges and the likelihood of serving jail time. However, we’d caution that this depends entirely on the nature of the arrest and each situation. They include the following:
While the first two options on this list will be detailed below, pleading down the charges to a traffic infraction is by far the best possible outcome, given that it will likely result in a fine for speeding or changing lanes improperly.
Speed exhibition (California Code 23109) is also better than a DUI despite being a misdemeanor offense. Moreover, these offenses are eligible for traffic school, potentially keeping points off the driver’s record.
This specific type of plea deal involves making a deal with the prosecutor to reduce the DUI charges and provide more lenient sentencing in exchange for a guilty or no contest plea. In effect, it means that the driver has pleaded down the original charge of driving under the influence to reckless driving, which carries fewer penalties. There will still be an entry noting the presence of alcohol in the situation.
The law in California does not prevent plea bargaining in these cases but generally only accepts these types of deals in the following circumstances:
Because the judge must ultimately sign off on any deal put together by the prosecutor and defendant, any plea should satisfy at least one of the above criteria to ensure it isn’t thrown out by the judge hearing the case.
At first glance, this might sound pretty impressive. A DUI conviction can involve a fine and jail sentence of up to 6 months in addition to a license suspension for ten months. By comparison, a wet reckless driving charge will mean up to 3 months of jail or a $1000 fine. Moreover, there is no mandatory license suspension in this case, and other penalties might also be reduced.
The penalties from a wet reckless plea will be lower, but it’s important to remember that there will be a DMV hearing (APS hearing). Unless you win at the hearing, the outcome might result in the temporary suspension of certain privileges. Besides the 2 points added to the driver’s record, which will probably trigger an insurance premium increase, the driver will also need to attend DUI school.
Additionally, suppose the driver is convicted of another DUI within ten years of the first incident. In that case, it won’t be treated as the first incident, increasing the likelihood of a much harsher penalty.
Unlike the wet reckless plea, which highlights that the driver in question was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and noted in official records, a dry reckless plea avoids that entry in the permanent record. It is the same as a reckless driving offense under vehicle code 23103.
Another significant difference from the wet reckless is that a dry reckless conviction isn’t treated as a priorable offense. This means that if a driver is convicted of another DUI within ten years, it isn’t considered a second offense like with a wet reckless plea.
The most common conditions that make a driver eligible for a dry reckless plea possible include severe flaws in the evidence or a blood alcohol level (BAC) close to 0.08%. These types of criteria may give an experienced defense lawyer a chance to poke severe holes in the prosecution’s case.
While there may be other circumstances surrounding the DUI arrest or charges, these are the specific areas a DUI defense attorney would want to explore for possible plea opportunities. When a prosecutor offers a wet reckless plea at the outset of a case, it might give a DUI lawyer further room for negotiating the more severe charges down to a dry reckless charge.
The dry reckless plea is among the best possible outcomes for a driver that has been charged with DUI, given it doesn’t result in an entry that drugs or alcohol were involved in the incident.
Still, there are consequences for this plea, including a fine of between $145 to $1000, jail time of up to three months, and a probation of one to two years. Although the DMV hearing can result in a license suspension, the DUI school requirement would be reduced six weeks or eliminated outright depending on the offense’s nature.
One other area which is less affected by a dry reckless plea is a driver’s insurance policy. A dry reckless doesn’t have as severe an impact on premium payments as a wet reckless conviction.
A public defender who already handles dozens of cases may have neither the time nor resources to leave no stone unturned during the court process. While representing yourself in court is always an option, a prosecutor may be less willing to bargain given your more limited experience. This is a specific instance where a qualified and experienced DUI lawyer can make all the difference in an outcome. Again, we caution that not every charge will be eligible for a plea deal or reduced charges.
Ideally, a DUI lawyer will be familiar with the law’s nuances and capably review all the evidence in the case to see whether there is an opening to negotiate with the prosecutor. Suppose there are signs that the prosecution has limited evidence or flawed evidence. In that case, an experienced lawyer may maximize their experience to deliver a more beneficial outcome for the driver.
When charged with a DUI, a conviction on these charges can lead to lasting consequences for drivers. Apart from the possibility of a longer jail sentence and a more significant fine, not to mention court fees, there is a high likelihood of driver’s license suspension, the revocation of an insurance policy, and other long-term complications.
Fortunately, there are situations where arranging a plea deal is possible. When a wet reckless or dry reckless plea can be negotiated, this is a much better outcome for both the penalties and the driving record. This is where an experienced attorney can help the most.
By carefully examining the evidence and finding areas to challenge the prosecution, a DUI attorney may help negotiate a deal that leaves the driver in a position to bounce back from a charge without the harmful long-term consequences that follow around a DUI conviction.
Image credit: Matt Chesin