Potential Resolutions of DUI Cases
Typically, there are four (4) ways to resolve a criminal charge: Trial, Deferred Prosecution, Dismissal and Pre Trial Negotiations. As a former prosecutor, Laura Murphy is acutely aware of the steps necessary to place her client in the best position to resolve a case in the best manner possible.
Deferred Prosecution is a diversionary program for individuals who are dependent on alcohol or other substances. If a person is arrested for DUI and is determined to be chemically dependent, a Deferred Prosecution may allow the person to stay out of jail, preserve their license, and eventually result in full dismissal of the charges provided the person successfully complies with the treatment program within five (5) years.
It is important to discuss this option thoroughly before choosing to enter into a five (5) year commitment. An evaluation must be obtained indicating the individual is dependent upon drugs and/or alcohol. The client must commit to a two (2) year treatment program in addition to remaining abstinent for the following three (3) years.
Deferred Prosecution has many attractive qualities. However, it also requires a significant commitment from the client. During the entire five (5) years, the client must completely abstain from alcohol and non prescribed drugs, and have no criminal violations. In addition, the client must comply with all phases of the treatment program which includes attending two Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings per week. The court will often require monitored probation for the entire five (5) year period, which is a significant additional expense.
A Deferred Prosecuting can be a worthwhile experience for anyone arrested for DUI who is chemically dependent. However, a person can only enter into a Deferred Prosecution once in their lifetime. If a person has previously entered into a Deferred Prosecution in another state, they will not be eligible for Deferred Prosecution in Washington State. It is important to discuss with your attorney the benefits and consequences of entering a program such as Deferred Prosecution.
Every person in the State of Washington has the absolute right to a trial. With that in mind, trials can be expensive, and extremely stressful, especially in light of the harsh consequences in the event of a conviction. Typically, there are two (2) reasons why an individual may choose to go to trial. The first is that the person has essentially nothing to lose. There are certain circumstances where the offer from the Prosecutor is to plead guilty as charged. If this is the client’s first offense, it is likely the court will impose the mandatory minimums. Even though the evidence may not entirely be in the client’s favor, he or she may choose to take the matter to trial since the penalty would remain the same.
Another reason a client may choose to take a matter to trial is based on a lack of evidence, and where the belief is that the crime will not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Many of these issues may be raised through pre trial motions such as Motion to Suppress Breath Test or Statements of the Client. Often after the motions are filed, the Prosecutor realizes the weakness in their case and responds with an offer of resolution.
While the decision to proceed to trial is a difficult one, it is entirely the decision of the client. However, it is important to draw from the experience of an attorney and to take his or her advice into consideration.
Pre Trial Negotiations:
A majority of cases are resolved through negotiation. An experienced attorney who is familiar with the criminal process, as well as the current status of the law, will substantially increase the likelihood of a reduction in charges. Equally important is where the DUI charges are filed. In some jurisdictions, the Prosecutor is willing to reduce the charges if it is a first offense. However, in other jurisdictions, negotiations may prove more difficult. It is important to work directly with an attorney so he or she may place your case in the best light possible for resolution.
The first form of reduction typically addresses the breath test. Where an individual has either refused the breath test, or has provided a breath test above .15, it is beneficial if the test can be negotiated to no test status. While this would still result in a DUI conviction, the length of license suspension is greatly decreased.
The next typical form of reduction which may be negotiated is reducing the charge from a DUI to a Reckless Driving charge. Under this form of reduction, the client would still enter a plea of guilty to a gross misdemeanor. Unlike DUI, there is no mandatory jail time and no requirement for an ignition interlock device (IID). However a conviction of Reckless Driving carries a mandatory thirty (30) day license suspension, as well as requires a person to obtain SR22 (High Risk) Insurance for a period of three (3) years after the person is eligible to reinstate his or her license.
The next for of possible reduction which may be negotiated is reducing the charge from a DUI to a Negligent Driving 1st Degree charge, which requires a plea to a misdemeanor. This does not require a mandatory jail sentence, ignition interlock device (IID), or SR22 Insurance. However, the client may still face a license suspension and the requirement to have SR22 Insurance if there is a license suspension through the administrative hearings process with Department of Licensing.
Pre negotiations often result in a reduction in charges to either Reckless Driving or Negligent Driving 1st Degree. As a result, these offenses are considered prior offenses for mandatory minimum penalties if the client is subsequently arrested for DUI.
In most cases, plea bargains are the very best option for a client. They often result in reduced license suspensions as well as little or no jail time. While most cases are negotiated, it must be made clear that a reduction to a lesser offense is not a guarantee, and depends upon the specific facts of the case, the prior history of the client, the agency where the charges are filed and the skills and expertise of the defense attorney in the resolution of the case.
Many clients are anxious to hear there is an opportunity to have their case dismissed. It is under a very unique set of circumstances that a dismissal would be an expected outcome. Essentially, it would require a compelling form of constitutional and/or evidentiary issues, which would convince the Prosecutor to dismiss the charges. As cautious as an attorney must be in discussing the possibility of a dismissal, I have handled a few select cases which have resulted in this outcome. In addition, I have had a few cases result in reductions to traffic infractions, which are equally unique as a dismissal.
As indicated previously, the results are based on the facts and circumstances of each case, and an experienced attorney can identify those unique circumstances.