Though the media portrays a different picture, most criminal cases never see the inside of a courtroom. Instead, the defendant enters a plea agreement or a plea bargain that determines the penalty for the crime. In many cases, a plea bargain places limitations on conviction or promises a particular sentence. Sometimes, plea bargaining is the best outcome in a DUI case.
A plea bargain is the legal term for an agreement between the prosecution and defendant in which each party agrees to something in order to receive a benefit. Prosecutors tend to favor pleas because these reduce the effort, time, and money required to go to trial and achieve a conviction. Defendants typically choose pleas due to reduced jail time. Entering a plea usually results in a less severe sentence (featuring less jail time) than losing the case in court.
In a DUI case, the attorney for the defendant may be able to get the prosecution to reduce the severity of the charge if the defendant agrees to enter a guilty plea. This plea may involve the defendant pleading guilty to a reckless driving charge, which carries less severe penalties, than a DUI. At any time prior to the sentencing phase, a defendant can retract a plea and opt for a trial.
Reasons to Accept a Plea Bargain
It is reasonable to assume that the prosecution in a DUI case has done its homework before offering a plea bargain to the defendant. The prosecutors have already reviewed the case and studied the evidence. If there were any victims or witnesses to the event, prosecutors have spoken to these individuals. The components of the plea are what the prosecutors consider appropriate and fair.
Defendants, particularly those who represent themselves, often reject plea bargains. They choose to go to trial, during which the prosecution may recommend a more severe sentence. If the prosecution suggests the same sentence at trial as during the plea, this recommendation may not be followed by the judge. In general, a judge is allowed to impose any sentence deemed just even if a plea was offered.
A trial may reveal more about the DUI arrest and the individual charged with the crime. This can cause the prosecution to alter its recommended sentence. If the defendant rejects a plea and is subsequently convicted of DUI during a trial due to new evidence unearthed by the prosecution, the defendant may be sentenced to jail time.