Plea bargaining is a compromise process designed to move criminal cases through the courts more quickly. A defendant enters a guilty plea to a charge that is lesser than the original charge and in return receives a reduced fine or jail sentence. The prosecutor avoids having to try a case but still gets credit for a conviction, while the defendant receives a minimal sentence for a lesser charge such as reckless driving. Plea bargaining can happen by telephone, at a prosecutor’s office, or at a pretrial conference in a judge’s chambers.
Mandatory DUI sentencing has reduced the willingness of many prosecutors to plea bargain, so plea bargains in DUI cases are not as common as in the past. Moreover, from a defendant’s viewpoint, the incentive to admit to a lesser charge is reduced since the law now requires your record to indicate that alcohol was involved – and your license will be suspended by the DMV – even for a lesser conviction. Your insurance company may treat such a guilty plea as the equivalent of a DUI conviction and cancel or refuse to renew your policy. Finally, if you’re charged with another DUI in California in the next ten years (after having plea bargained a DUI down to reckless driving), the earlier plea will be used against you just as if you had been convicted of DUI. Nevertheless, plea bargaining may still soften some of the penalties of a DUI conviction.
Let an experienced California DUI defense attorney handle plea bargaining for you. A prosecutor may not be willing to plea bargain with a defendant acting as his or her own attorney. A good DUI defense lawyer who regularly represents DUI offenders will be familiar with local routines, prosecutors, and judges. If you are charged with DUI in California – now or in the future – speak at once to an experienced California DUI defense attorney.