The Best Way to Handle A DUI or DWI Charge
If you’ve been arrested for a DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated), you will have to appear in court to be formally charged and respond with a plea. This is called an arraignment. It’s a good idea to be informed about how this process works, how you can deal with your charge, and what happens next.
You will need to be prepared to plead the charge with either guilty, no contest, or not guilty. You will also be appointed with a lawyer, and if there is bail involved, that amount will be set at the arraignment. Typically, if you are charged with a misdemeanor and you haven’t yet posted bail, you’ll be released on a promise to appear in court.
You don’t usually need a lawyer to represent you at this point in the process, as you are only choosing your plea, and you can always plead not guilty and change it to guilty or no contest at a later date. Most states also allow you to have a jury trial, and in these states, it’s assumed that you’ll want one unless you specifically say otherwise. The desire for a jury trial can always be waived later on.
It’s important to remember that if the court charges you with any past under-the-influence convictions, you should deny those charges until you or your lawyer can look into them and determine how valid they are.
How Should You Deal with Your Case?
When you’ve been released from jail, it’s important to gather your thoughts and determine your best course of action. Your first stop should probably be to get a lawyer than can help you look objectively at your case and prepare for your arraignment and beyond. You have several options:
- Plead guilty as charged
- Plea bargain down to a reduced charge like reckless driving
- Ask for a trial before a judge
- Demand a jury trial (not available in every state)
Fighting The Charge vs. Plea Bargaining
When determining whether or not you should fight a DUI charge, you need to figure out how much evidence the prosecutor has against you. If the prosecutor has evidence that you had a high BAC level or that you were severely impaired, you might want to consider negotiating a plea deal instead.
There is the possibility of being convicted of a “per se” DUI for driving with a BAC of .08%or more, even if you weren’t impaired by the alcohol you consumed. When your BAC is high, around .12% or higher, it’s difficult to win a trial. Your lawyer might try to question the accuracy of your BAC level measurement, but that usually won’t be enough to win the jury over to your side. The closer your BAC level is to .08%, the higher your chances of beating a per se DUI are. If your BAC level is right exactly at .08%, your lawyer will simply need to convince the jury that the level is within the margin of error of the testing. Your lawyer also might argue that your BAC level was lower than the legal limit while you were behind the wheel but that it increased by the time you were tested. This is called the “rising-blood alcohol defense.”
Plea bargaining, or sentence bargaining, involves you or your lawyer negotiation with the prosecutor to come up with a fair, alternative form of punishment. Yu will then plead guilty or o contest and receive a reduced sentence, fine, or charge. This allows the prosecutor to win a case and no one has to go through the trial. You will likely be able to get a good plea bargain when the prosecutor has weaker evidence against you. When there is clear, powerful evidence of guilt, a prosecutor is less likely to negotiate with you or your lawyer.
Whether you decide to plea bargain or your case goes to trial, you should still think about hiring a lawyer to advise and represent you. You can also have the judge appoint you a lawyer at your arraignment if you are unable to afford one. You might need to fill out a financial disclosure form if that’s the case.
A DUI attorney will be helpful in looking at your case objectively, presenting you with your options in a clear way, advising you as to which path might be best for your case, and fighting for you to get reduced punishment.