If you have been charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI) you may be facing more than one count. For example, you may be charged under both the theory that your level of intoxication makes driving less safe, as well as under the theory that you have more than 0.08 percent blood alcohol. You may also be charged with crimes such as speeding, failure to come to a complete stop, or some other traffic infraction which led to the DUI charges. At some point, you and your lawyer may decide that it is in your best interests to enter a plea of guilty to some or all of the charges rather than take the case to trial.
Negotiated Plea Agreements
Typically, people charged with a DUI enter into what is called a “negotiated plea agreement.” In this case, your lawyer negotiates with the prosecutor for a certain resolution. This agreement may cover jail time, a fine, a chemical use assessment, educational programming, or other terms and conditions. Other times, certain conditions are left up to the court, such as the amount of the fine. In either event, in a negotiated plea, the court is informed of the agreed-upon resolution of the case. If the court does not approve of the agreement, the defendant can withdraw their plea of guilty and have a trial. In a negotiated plea agreement, frequently some charges are dismissed in exchange for pleas of guilty to other charges.
When someone enters a “straight plea,” they enter a plea of guilty to the charges without a plea agreement with the prosecutor. This may be a good move if a particular prosecutor wants an extremely harsh sentence. It may also be advisable in front of a judge with a reputation for leniency. Of course, most people don't know which judges are inclined towards leniency and which judges will throw the book at a DUI defendant. This is one of many reasons a qualified DUI lawyer's assistance is worth the expense. The disadvantage to a straight plea, however, is that unlike with a negotiated settlement, no one can say for certain what the judge will do in any given case. This can be risky.
Giving Up Constitutional Rights
When someone enters a plea of guilty, they give up certain rights guaranteed to them by the Constitutions of the United States and the state of Georgia. Below are some of the rights you give up when you plead guilty.
You have the right to challenge the criminal complaint filed against you. The law requires the government include sufficient evidence in the complaint to establish that, if true, a crime has been committed, and committed by the person named in the complaint. In other words, they can't simply say, “John drove his car.” Or, “Susan was drunk.” Instead, the complaint must establish evidence a person was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and that they were driving or were in physical control of the vehicle.
You also have the right to a hearing to challenge the admissibility of the evidence against you. Broadly speaking, you may challenge any of the following conduct the government may have engaged in.
- Stops of your car.
- Statements taken from you.
- Searches executed, such as the search of your car.
- Seizures of your person or property, including, in some cases, the seizure of your blood, breath, or urine.
- Warrants executed.
When you enter a plea of guilty, you give up the right to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence the government has against you.
You have an absolute right to a trial. At trial, the state must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Every element of each charge must be so proven. You may select the decision maker for your trial, either a judge sitting alone or a jury. If you choose a jury trial, all the jurors would have to agree you were guilty before you could be found guilty.
At a trial, the state proves their case by bringing in witnesses to testify against you in open court. You have the right, at trial, to cross-examine the state's witnesses. You also have the right to bring in witnesses to testify on your behalf. At a trial, you can testify if you want to, but you cannot be forced to testify against yourself. If you choose not to testify, neither the prosecutor nor the judge can make any comment on your silence to the jury. This is your right to remain silent. When you enter a plea of guilty, you give up your right to remain silent. You agree, by your guilty plea, that you will tell the judge what you did that makes you guilty of the crimes you are pleading guilty to. Judges will not accept a plea of guilty from someone who claims to be innocent.
A guilty plea can have collateral consequences. If you are not a United States citizen, it is possible you could be deported based on a plea of guilty to certain DUI offenses. There may be job consequences. For example, if you are a medical professional, you may lose your license to practice medicine, or you may be suspended for a period of time. If you are a pilot, similarly, there could be consequences to your professional license. These are just a few examples of collateral consequences you may face.
Are You Facing DUI Charges?
If you are facing DUI charges, contact our Hall County DUI lawyers. We can help. We focus our practice exclusively on DUI representation. We are aware of the most current case law, the best way to challenge the evidence the state has, and the attitudes of judges and prosecutors alike when it comes to DUI charges. Call today for your free consultation. There is no risk to you. We make our lawyers available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call us at 404.816.4440.