Dealing with a DUI or DWI Charge
After being arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) the individual in question will appear in court before a judge to be arraigned. Arraignment is a court appearance where the arrested individual is officially charged with either DUI or DWI. At this time, the individual will be asked to respond to the charges by stating they are guilty or not guilty also known as entering a plea. Before the arraignment is usually when an individual would want to retain and meet with a lawyer. Here is more information on how an individual should deal with a DUI or DWI charge.
When to Retain a Lawyer
The amount of time between an individual’s arrest and when he or she retains a DUI lawyer is all dependent on his or her personal needs. Some individuals retain a lawyer right after they are arrested to help review the case and be present at arraignment. Others choose to handle the arraignment on their own, review the case themselves, and then decide whether or not they would like an attorney to look at the case. For example, there is nothing a lawyer will be able to do for a non-injury, first offense DUI case with a high chance of conviction, so an attorney is generally not brought in to review the individual’s case.
Information on Arraignment Proceedings
During an individual’s arraignment, the charges will officially be placed against them and they will be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If they have not already retained their own legal counsel, the court may appoint a public defender to the case. Additionally, either bail for the charged individual will be set or, if the case is a misdemeanor, the defendant may be released on their own recognizance. In most cases, having an attorney present at the arraignment is not necessary, since the charged individual can enter a plea of guilty or not guilty on their own. It is also possible to change the plea at a later time.
After arraignment and before trial, when the charged individual is released, he or she should take an objective look at the case and, depending on the circumstances, have an experienced DUI or DWI lawyer review the case. Depending on the evidence and circumstances surrounding the case, the individual may want to take advantage of one of these options before their trial date:
- Pleading guilty to the charges
- Negotiating a plea bargain for lesser charges (such as reckless driving)
- Requesting a trial before a judge
- Requesting a trial by jury
The more likely it is that a jury will find the individual guilty of DUI or DWI the more the individual should consider taking a plea bargain. Since the Blood Alcohol Content limit in all states is 0.08, having test results from a field sobriety test of over that percentage is almost a guaranteed guilty conviction. If this is the case and the individual still wants to plead not guilty, it falls upon the attorney to convince the jury and/or the judge that the Breathalyzer test was inaccurate for some believable reason.
If an individual’s BAC measured less than 0.08, there is a much better chance of beating the charges. Since having a BAC of less than 0.08 is not considered a crime, the individual will not be convicted of DUI or DWI. It than falls upon the arresting officer to prove that the driver’s judgment and driving abilities were still impaired even with a legal BAC. An experienced DUI attorney will be able to cross examine the arresting officer and other expert witnesses in an attempt to have the individual acquitted.
Choosing a Jury Trial
If upon review of the case with a lawyer the individual decides to take the case to trial, the best chance of winning is to request a trial by jury. Jury trials are statistically easier to win, especially with the help of a knowledgeable DUI attorney, than trials before a judge. There is always a chance that an individual will be assigned to a judge who has a low or no tolerance view on driving under the influence and the likelihood of an attorney swaying a jury is much higher than swaying the opinion of one person.
Information on Plea Bargaining
Plea bargaining, also known as sentence bargaining, is the process where the charged individual or the individual’s lawyer and the prosecutor of the case reach an agreement about the individual’s charges. In most cases, the defendant will enter a guilty plea in exchange for being convicted of lesser charges, such as reckless driving instead of driving under the influence. These lesser charges often carry lesser consequences, such as smaller fines or less jail time. A lawyer is very important when negotiating a plea deal and can help the defendant get the best possible outcome given their current situation.
It is important to know, however, that plea bargains or sentence bargains for DUI cases are not as common as they used to be. Many states have completely outlawed driving with a BAC of 0.08 percent or more, which makes winning or plea bargaining for borderline cases (BAC of 0.08 to 0.12) much more difficult. Additionally, some states have outlawed prosecutors from making plea bargains with defendants involved in DUI or DWI cases for any charges less than what is known as “wet reckless.”
Private Attorneys vs. Public Defenders
Regardless of how the individual would like the case handled, either taking a plea bargain or going to trial, it is encouraged for them to have a DUI lawyer present to represent them during the proceedings of the case. In some cases, the defendant is unable to afford to hire a lawyer on their own – when this is the case, the court system will evaluate the financial situation and then decide whether or not appointing a public defender for the case at no charge is an option.
While the free representation is great, it is important to remember that public defenders handle and represent a number of different cases at one time and may not have the expertise needed to try a DUI case effectively. It has been known for public defenders to suggest plea bargains for their clients in DUI cases simply so they do not have to go to trial. While this may work for some cases, not all cases warrant having to take a plea bargain and plead guilty – this is when an experienced attorney is needed.
In some cases, an individual’s finances may be tight but they also do not qualify for state representation. If this is the case, it is still recommended that the individual seek the legal advice of an experienced attorney to at least review the case after arraignment. The attorney will be able to explain the defendant’s options and let them know the likelihood they will win their case if it is taken to trial and whether or not they should consider taking a plea bargain if one presents itself before trial.
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