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Plea Bargains

In California, a driver arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), or driving while intoxicated (DWI) has an important decision to make - whether to accept a plea bargain or take the case to a criminal DUI trial. A plea bargain may be a good decision if the prosecutor has a particularly strong case and the chances of prevailing at trial are slim. An experienced California criminal DUI defense lawyer can determine whether accepting a plea bargain is in the driver's best interests.

The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved through a "plea bargain", usually well before the case reaches trial. In a plea bargain, the defendant agrees to plead guilty, usually to a lesser charge than one for which the defendant could stand trial, in exchange for a more lenient sentence, and/or so that certain related charges are dismissed. For both the government and the defendant, the decision to enter into (or not enter into) a plea bargain may be based on the seriousness of the alleged crime, the strength of the evidence in the case, and the prospects of a guilty verdict at trial. Plea bargains are generally encouraged by the court system, and have become something of a necessity due to overburdened criminal court calendars and overcrowded jails.

Prosecutors sometimes offer the option of pleading guilty or no contest to drunk driving with negotiated consequences. The prosecutor may be willing to reduce the DUI charge from a felony to a misdemeanor, which is always a win for the client. An experienced California DUI defense attorney may also be able to negotiate a sentence that carries far fewer consequences than the original charge.

A second option is to plead guilty to alcohol-related reckless driving, also called a wet-reckless charge. A wet-reckless conviction is superior to a driving under the influence (DUI) conviction in almost every way - there are no mandatory license suspensions or alcohol education classes required. An SR-22, or formal proof of insurance, won't be required unless the driver's California DMV hearing is unsuccessful. There may also be benefits for those who have professional licensing issues, such as doctors, psychologists, and real-estate agents.

However, this type of plea bargain means that if the motorist is arrested for driving under the influence (DUI), or driving while intoxicated (DWI) again within 10 years, the wet-reckless conviction will count as a prior DUI conviction, and the driver will face the consequences of a second-offense DUI. Also, insurance companies view wet-reckless as the same as a DUI conviction, which likely means higher premiums.

A better option is to plead guilty to reckless driving not involving alcohol, also known as dry-reckless. Pleading guilty to dry-reckless is lesser crime to a driving under the influence (DUI) or wet-reckless conviction in every respect. A dry-reckless conviction typically carries only a fine and probation, although the court may order the driver to attend alcohol-education classes. A dry-reckless conviction is not priorable, meaning it won't count if the driver is arrested again for drunk driving within 10 years. Also, a dry-reckless plea doesn't require an SR-22 if the driver is successful at a California DMV hearing.

Sometimes California drivers arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), or driving while intoxicated (DWI) are allowed to plead guilty to exhibition of speed conviction if the prosecutor's case is particularly weak. An offer to reduce a drunk driving charge to exhibition of speed is a bargain in the true sense of the word. An exhibition of speed conviction is usually punished only with a fine, although alcohol education classes may be required. Exhibition of speed isn't counted as a prior DUI offense, and no SR-22 filing is required if the driver wins his or her California DMV administrative per se hearing (APS).

California DUI / DWI charges are sometimes reduced to mere traffic infractions. Obviously, this is the best possible outcome. The motorist is allowed to plead guilty to an infraction such as speeding or unsafe lane change, and the DUI charge is dropped. The driver need only pay a fine, and may even be able to attend traffic school to remove the citation from his or her record. There is no requirement for an SR-22 or alcohol education courses, and the driver walks away without a criminal record.

DUI plea bargains can provide an excellent resolution to a driving under the influence (DUI), or driving while intoxicated (DWI) case, but they are complex negotiations that require the expertise of a skilled San Francisco drunk driving defense attorney. An attorney who concentrates on drunk driving defense can evaluate whether it is better to negotiate a plea bargain or take a case to a California DUI trial, and explain the pros and cons of each outcome.

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