Some drivers accused of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) are offered plea bargains by prosecutors, especially when the case as charged seems particularly difficult to prove in court. Although sometimes it’s better to take a case to trial, in other cases, a carefully negotiated plea bargain is in the driver’s best interests. An experienced California DUI / DWI criminal defense attorney may be able to broker a plea agreement with negotiated penalties that is the best deal for the driver.
Accused drunk drivers who accept plea bargains still face court punishment, but the penalties can be greatly reduced when the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge. In some cases, a prosecutor may be willing to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor, which is a favorable outcome for the defendant.
Most first, second, and third DUIs are charged as misdemeanors, provided the driver was not involved in an accident and no one was hurt. For a first-time DUI / DWI in California, the minimum sentence a court may impose is 36 months of informal probation, approximately $1,500 in fines and penalties, participation in a 12-week alcohol program, a 90-day restricted driver’s license imposed by the court, and six months suspended driver’s license imposed by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Factors that will increase this mandatory minimum sentence include refusal to take a chemical test, a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .20 percent or greater, driving 20 miles per hour above the speed limit on side streets or 30 mph over the speed limit on the freeway, driving recklessly while under the influence, drunk driving with a minor in the car, and cases involving a traffic accident. Drivers who have previous DUI’s during the past 10 years and drivers under 21 also face additional sanctions.
A driver with a second DUI / DWI within 10 years faces 10 days in county jail and an 18- month alcohol program. In addition, the DMV will suspend the driver’s license for two years. The defendant will be eligible for a restricted license after one year.
A third-time drunk driving defendant will be sentenced to 120 days in county jail and a three year license suspension. The defendant will be eligible for a restricted license after two years.
Felony DUI / DWI pleas include jail time, fines, license suspension and mandatory alcohol education classes. A felony driver involved in an accident must pay restitution to the victims to be determined at a hearing.
A driver charged with a felony because of a fourth DUI / DWI within 10 years faces 180 days in jail, an 18-month alcohol program, and a four year license suspension, with the possibility of a restricted license after three years. The plea also will include fines and probation.
Although these penalties may seem harsh, sometimes a plea agreement with negotiated minimum penalties is a far better bet for a DUI / DWI driver than taking chances with a jury trial. A qualified lawyer who specializes in drunk driving defense can determine whether a plea bargain with a negotiated minimum penalty is in the driver’s best interests.